Would the Serbian MUP, staffed by the erstwhile subordinates of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, arrest their former bosses if they decided not to return to The Hague for trial?

Serbia is not able to arrest and surrender Generals Pavkovic, Lazarevic and Lukic and other indictees at large in its territory because the new government has not yet established the Council for Cooperation with the Tribunal. This was today’s explanation by Zoran Stojkovic, Justice Minister of the Republic of Serbia, as he offered his government’s guarantees for the provisional release of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic.

When the prosecutor asked if this meant the government in Belgrade was "guaranteeing something it is not able to accomplish," the minister replied that the non-existence of the Council would not impede the arrest and transfer of Stanisic and Simatovic to The Hague, under guard, if they refused to return for their trial. As he explained, they "already went through the procedure before the authorities of the Republic" last spring, when they were transfered to the Detention Unit in The Hague from a Belgrade prison. Pavkovic, Lazarevic, Lukic and others, however, "have not gone through that procedure yet." It is not known when they will, since the establishment of the Council does not depend on the goodwill of Serbia, but of the other member of the State Union.

Noting that last year the two accused held the highest-ranking posts in the Serbian MUP, the prosecutor expressed doubts that their former subordinates would be prepared to arrest them if they were to change their minds about returning to The Hague. Pointing out that Stanisic and Simatovic have been accused of serious crimes and may receive very long prison sentences, the prosecutor added that the probability of their changing their minds grew proportionally to the seriousness of the crime and the severity of the penalty.

In addition to the guarantees of their government, Stanisic and Simatovic offered their personal guarantees that they would not try to influence victims and witnesses while on provisional release. The prosecutor, however, also remains skeptical of these guarantees and put one of her investigators on the witness stand. He claimed that in 2001 and 2002, several potential witnesses told him they would not come to The Hague to testify "for as long as Stanisic and Simatovic remain at large."

The hearing today mostly dealt with the motion for provisional release filed by Franko Simatovic, while Jovica Stanisic's motion will be discussed over the next few days. The hearing will, it seems, deal with the health of the accused. There were indications today that the court will hear testimony from defense and prosecution medical experts and the Health Minister of the Republic of Serbia.