Monday, April 04, 2005

Top Serb War Crimes Suspect Arrives At The Hague

A top Serb war crimes suspect traveled Monday to The Hague, Netherlands, to face charges for atrocities allegedly committed in Kosovo, but it was not clear whether he was arrested or surrendered voluntarily.

Gen. Sreten Lukic, the former Serb police chief in Kosovo, was indicted in 2003 for alleged war crimes committed by Serb troops during the 1998-99 Kosovo war. Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians claimed 10,000 lives and displaced about 1 million people.

"Sreten Lukic was transferred to the Detention Unit of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia from Serbia. He had been at large for a year and a half," the U.N. tribunal said in a statement.

If Lukic was arrested, it would be the first time Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's conservative government has forced a Serb war crimes suspect to surrender.

Kostunica has been reluctant to arrest the fugitives fearing a political backlash by the nationalists who fiercely oppose the U.N. court. Since October, the government has persuaded 11 Serb war crimes suspects to travel to The Hague voluntarily.

A spokesman for Serbia's ruling Democratic Party, Andreja Mladenovic, said Lukic's departure was a "form of voluntary surrender."

However, Lukic's lawyer Sinisa Simic said later Monday that his client was "taken to The Hague against his will," not even allowed to "contact his family or lawyer" before being "abruptly transported" to the U.N. court in the Netherlands.

Lukic had just seen a cardiologist in a Belgrade hospital and was still "pajamas and slippers" when unnamed officials took him away, the lawyer said.

Justice Minister Zoran Stojkovic insisted, however, that the former police commander voluntarily went to The Hague.

"He was not arrested, nor handcuffed," Stojkovic said, and suggested that if the suspect continues to insist he did not surrender voluntary, it would decrease his chances for temporary release until trial.

The ultranationalist Radical party, the biggest group in Serbia's parliament, said in a statement that Lukic was kidnapped "by two bandits under the instruction of the government."

Over the weekend, Lukic complained that he was being rushed to surrender to The Hague tribunal. Lukic, who also had heart surgery last year, said he wanted to recuperate before giving himself up.

The government said in a statement that Lukic will have all the medical assistance that he needs in The Hague.

Lukic was indicted for crimes against humanity and violations of the customs of war along with three other Serb police and army generals: former chief of staff, Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic, former Kosovo army Gen. Vladimir Lazarevic and police Gen. Vlastimir Djordjevic.

Lazarevic surrendered to the court earlier this year, while Pavkovic went into hiding after a warning that he would be arrested. Djordjevic is believed to be hiding in Russia.

According to the indictment, the four allegedly "planned, instigated, ordered, committed or otherwise aided and abetted in a deliberate and widespread or systematic campaign of terror and violence directed at Kosovo Albanian civilians living in Kosovo."

Serbia faces intense international pressure to hand over all the suspects, including former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic. The European Union has warned Serbia that its prospects for possible membership in the bloc hinge on a full cooperation with the U.N. court. [ 04-04-05 2147GMT ]

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