TOKYO – Japan, Australia and New Zealand joined their U.S. and European allies on Friday in welcoming the extradition of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to stand trial before the U.N. war crimes tribunal.
But Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov criticized the move, saying it "will not increase stability in Yugoslavia."
Quoted by the Interfax news agency, Ivanov said: "Everything happening regarding Milosevic confirms that there are conflicts among the democratic forces."
He said, "This doubtless will play into the hands of the separatists in Kosovo and Montenegro, who want to leave the Yugoslav federation. Most likely, they will not fail to take advantage of the current situation. And if things keep going like that, it is not hard to predict what all this will lead to."
The day before, the Russian parliament had urged the Yugoslav government not to extradite Milosevic, and a few hundred protesters demonstrated outside the Yugoslav Embassy in Moscow.
Milosevic, 59, who was moved to The Hague on Thursday, has been in jail since April while local allegations of abuse of power and corruption were investigated. He was indicted by the U.N. tribunal for alleged atrocities committed in Kosovo during an offensive two years ago against the province's ethnic Albanian population.
About 10,000 ethnic Albanians were estimated to have died in the crackdown, which ended after NATO's 78-day bombing campaign.
The extradition caused controversy at home, where Milosevic's successor, Vojislav Kostunica, denounced it as "illegal and unconstitutional." Others accused Serb Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who spearheaded the decision, of "treason" and buckling under U.S. pressure.
But the move was welcomed in many other countries.
"This is a landmark decision in the fight to bring to justice those who have committed human rights abuses," said New Zealand Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Phil Goff. "This sends a clear message to others that they cannot with impunity commit acts of terror, violence and persecution."
Goff said that renewed efforts are now needed to arrest and extradite Bosnian Serb leaders Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic who should also face trial for the widespread murder, rape and torture of Bosnian Muslims.
In Tokyo, Foreign Ministry spokesman Norio Hattori said, "Japan praises ... this indication of Yugoslavia's ... strong will to promote cooperation with the international society ... and to contribute to regional stability."
In Australia, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer called the move a breakthrough for Yugoslavia.
"It is in the interests of Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav people that this dark chapter in their country's history is brought to a close," Downer said. He said the decision to cooperate with the tribunal would allow for international assistance to be provided to help Yugoslavia repair years of damage done by the Milosevic regime.
In Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post, the leading English-language newspaper, carried two stories about the handover of the former dictator on Thursday, including one with the headline: "Milosevic cronies wait for their turn."
India's national newspaper, The Hindu, noted that Yugoslavia desperately needs the foreign aid it has been promised by the developed world.
In Europe and the United States, many officials called Milosevic's extradition a turning point in the Balkans' recent history of violence.
"Milosevic has a significant responsibility for the collapse of Yugoslavia and for the wars that followed in its wake, and is suspected of having direct responsibility for some of our time's worst war crimes. He must now stand and answer for the extremely serious charges," said Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorbjoern Jagland.
NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said the Yugoslav government had made a "wise and courageous decision." In a statement issued by NATO headquarters, he said Milosevic was "associated with the darkest periods in the modern history of Yugoslavia and the Balkans," and said the trial would enable Yugoslavia to "to rejoin the European family of nations."
President Bush called the handover "an unequivocal message to those persons who brought such a tragedy and brutality to the Balkans that they will be held accountable for their crimes."
Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel said the Yugoslav government was "turning over a dark page in European history," and British Prime Minister Tony Blair hailed the handover as "a thoroughly good thing."
Milosevic's handover will boost pledges of aid for Yugoslavia at an international donors' conference in Brussels on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the transfer was a "victory for accountability over impunity."