Athens, Greece (CNSNews.com) - Newly-elected Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica says he will not surrender former president Slobodan Milosevic, nor two Yugoslav military officials, for trial on war crimes charges.
"I have stated that I will not send Milosevic to the International Court at The Hague, but I think that neither Radovan Karadjic and Ratko Mladic should be taken there. The Hague is more of a political institute than a court," Kostunica told the Greek Sunday Typos newspaper.
But Kostunica said there is no role for Milosevic in Yugoslavia's new political scene. The new leader in Belgrade also announced that he planned to change his country's name to "Serbia-Montenegro."
The U.S. government, however, insists that the defeated Serb leader must face justice. Defense Secretary William Cohen made it clear during a press conference in the Greek city of Thessaloniki last week that Washington's policy remained unchanged.
"He must appear before the court at The Hague," Cohen said.
Cohen stressed that the U.S. and its allies would help Kostunica, and he said President Clinton "is conferring with Congress to have sanctions against Yugoslavia lifted." Sanctions targeting Milosevic directly would remain in place, he added.
In the interview, Kostunica also referred to the troubled southern Serb province of Kosovo. The area was within the borders of Yugoslavia, he stressed. If it became independent this would cause problems not only for Yugoslavia, but also for Macedonia, a former Yugoslav republic that is now independent.
More than 20 percent of Macedonian citizens are ethnic Albanians, who could become restive if Kosovo, with an Albanian majority, becomes independent.
On the subject of Montenegro -- the other part of Yugoslavia which has been pushing for more autonomy -- Kostunica said a "common language of communication" would be found. "The elements that unite us outnumber those that separate us," he said.
Kostunica said Yugoslavia's name could be changed to Serbia-Montenegro. Currently, those two republics are the last in the federal republic, following the break-away during the 1990s of Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia and Slovenia.
The U.S. Ambassador to Athens, Nicholas Burns, praised the Greek government's diplomatic policies in the Balkans in recent months, saying Greece was the only NATO country with credibility in Belgrade.
"Greece played a very positive role, because it stretched out its hand of friendship to the opposition. Greece was proven to be correct in its foreign policy," Burns told a U.S.-Greece business conference in Athens.
"Greece now has a positive influence in Belgrade to create a true democracy."
Burns reiterated that Milosevic should face charges for war crimes, but acknowledged that Kostunica had "different views" on the matter.
After meeting Kostunica at a European Union summit in Biarritz, France, Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis said Sunday Athens was ready to provide $15 million to Yugoslavia, to cover immediate needs in the balance of payments and state salaries.
One of the most obvious projects would be the cleaning up of the Danube River, blocked to shipping since the NATO bombings last year.
"The damages of the Danube bridges have obstructed development, they have a negative economic impact on Bulgaria and Romania as well. The clean up of the Danube is a project of great importance," Simitis said.
The Greek premier said that leaders of the Balkan countries, including Kostunica, would meet soon in Greece.