THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CNN) -- Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has arrived in The Hague to stand trial on war crimes charges.
A helicopter arrived in the Netherlands shortly before 1.30 a.m. (2330 GMT) local time on Friday as Western officials gathered to discuss aiding the battered country that extradited him.
The helicopter landed at the facility that houses the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Western governments blame Milosevic for a decade of ethnic strife that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. An indictment in 1999 holds him responsible for the killings and expulsions of thousands of ethnic Albanians in the Serbian province of Kosovo.
"This tribunal was set up to investigate and prosecute as high up the chain of command as the evidence will allow, and I think this is the ultimate case," said Jim Landale, a spokesman the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
The campaign against Albanian separatists in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo by the Serbian-led Yugoslav army and security forces prompted NATO countries to launch a three-month campaign of aerial bombardment against Yugoslavia in 1999.
Milosevic's transfer to the Hague comes on the eve of an international conference of donors for Yugoslavia in Brussels, sponsored jointly by the European Union and the World Bank.
Years of international sanctions and the U.S.-led air campaign devastated the country's economy and infrastructure, and Yugoslav officials hope to raise $1.3 billion at the conference for their war-torn country.
Donor nations and top lending institutions had put the Yugoslav government on notice that it would not receive the funds if it did not cooperate with the tribunal.
The international community on Thursday welcomed Milosevic's extradition, but it was greeted with shock and anger in Belgrade.
The announcement that Milosevic was in U.N. custody came after a day of drama that began when Yugoslavia's Constitutional Court suspended the decree allowing his extradition.
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic called the court's ruling "worthless" because it was made up of Milosevic appointees. Djindjic argued that international law required him to hand Milosevic over for trial.
A crowd of several hundred people gathered late on Thursday in the city's Central Square and outside the prison where Milosevic had been held since April. Even Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica called the move illegal and unconstitutional.
"This could be interpreted as a serious jeopardising of the state's constitutional order," Kostunica said in a televised address.
Milosevic has been under arrest since April, facing possible charges of corruption and abuse of power during his 13 years in power.
Yugoslavia's Cabinet approved a decree last week allowing suspects to be handed over to the U.N. tribunal. On Monday the government of Serbia -- the larger of the two remaining Yugoslav republics -- launched extradition proceedings against him. Milosevic had asked the country's Constitutional Court to rule to declare the extradition unconstitutional.
The charges of crimes against humanity stem from actions by the Serbian-led Yugoslav army in Kosovo. They include charges of murder, deportation and prosecution of people on political, racial and ethnic grounds. If convicted, the 59-year-old Milosevic could be sentenced to life in prison.
Among the allegations is that Milosevic ordered the bodies of ethnic Albanians killed by Yugoslav security forces in Kosovo brought to Serbia for burial in an attempt to avoid war crimes charges.
Leaders of the countries that went to war against Yugoslavia praised the arrest of Milosevic. U.S. President George Bush said it showed Belgrade was moving "toward a brighter future as a full member of the community of European democracies." British Prime Minister Tony Blair called it "thoroughly a good thing."
The tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, has said she intends to seek additional indictments against Milosevic. There was word Thursday the charges might be expanded to include genocide.
"That here we see one of the most powerful men in the Balkans today in the hands of the Hague should go to show all leaders who are bound to abuse their power that in today's world, the people in the international community demand and will ensure that impunity is not allowed to stand," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Thursday.
A spokesman for The Hague said the normal procedure is for an indicted suspect to "enter a plea" at an initial appearance within four days after arriving.
On the other hand, observers said, it could take up to a year of pre-trial proceedings and challenges to the charges against Milosevic before the case comes to trial.
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