BELGRADE, Yugoslavia – Police said Friday they were investigating former President Slobodan Milosevic on allegations he ordered evidence of Kosovo war crimes destroyed to avert prosecution by the U.N. tribunal.
The allegations -- connected to a truckload of bodies of Kosovo Albanians dumped into the Danube River in 1999 -- mark the first time that Yugoslav authorities have officially linked Milosevic to war crimes.
The U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands has charged Milosevic with atrocities against ethnic Albanians during a 1999 crackdown in Kosovo. So far Belgrade has only charged him with abuse of power during his 13-year rule and has been reluctant to hand him over.
Although Yugoslav police have not formally charged Milosevic with the war-crimes related offense, their announcement appeared to be the start of attempts to pave the way for his extradition to The Hague.
The government is now drafting a law on the extradition of war crimes suspects to the U.N. tribunal that would permit the handover of suspects like Milosevic only if local courts found a basis for war crimes accusations.
Police official Dragan Karleusa said Milosevic had ordered top police commanders "to remove all evidence which could point to" civilian casualties during the crackdown in March 1999.
He said Milosevic ordered his police to remove corpses "which could become the topic of possible investigation by The Hague tribunal."
Police were investigating Milosevic in connection to reports that a refrigerated trailer truck was dumped into the Danube river in 1999 with bodies of people from Kosovo province, possibly ethnic Albanian victims of the war.
Karleusa confirmed that over 50 corpses were in the truck.
"For now it's clear that this was a case of removing evidence of criminal acts," said Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic, when asked whether war crimes charges against Milosevic in Yugoslavia could result.
The conflict in Kosovo, the southern province of Yugoslavia's main republic Serbia, erupted in 1998, with ethnic Albanians seeking independence battling Serb-led government troops. It ended when NATO launched airstrikes against Yugoslav forces accused of committing atrocities under Milosevic, then Yugoslav president.