BELGRADE, Dec 9, 1999 -- (Reuters) Yugoslavia stepped up its attacks against the French U.N. administrator of Kosovo on Wednesday, accusing him of links with what it alleges is a shadowy Serb paramilitary group sponsored by Paris.
In the second of a promised series of briefings on the alleged group called "Spider" he said was backed by French intelligence, Yugoslav Information Secretary Goran Matic said Bernard Kouchner also played a role.
He gave no further details of Kouchner's involvement with the group.
France has acknowledged that Jugoslav Petrusic, named two weeks ago by Matic as a leader of Spider, was a French citizen. But it dismissed as absurd Belgrade's charge that it was behind an alleged plot to assassinate President Slobodan Milosevic.
Petrusic was arrested in Serbia last month on charges of spying for France.
Officials in Paris last week predicted that Kouchner would be named, saying the Spider revelations appeared linked to Serb efforts to undermine the administrator, who has run Kosovo since Serb forces withdrew from the province in June.
Kouchner has been regularly vilified by Belgrade, which still insists it won this year's conflict with NATO over Kosovo.
The main focus of the news conference was details of an alleged plan under which Spider was said to have been sent to overthrow Zaire's President Mobutu Sese Seko by acting ineffectually on his behalf and destabilizing his economy with inflated bills for arms.
French dailies have said Petrusic recruited Serb mercenaries to try to prevent the 1997 rebel overthrow of Mobutu, a bid which subsequently failed.
Diplomats in Paris say France has not publicly ruled out the possibility that Petrusic might have had links with French intelligence.
Foreigners paid for Srebrenica massacre, Matic says
Matic said Spider had also been paid to carry out the massacre of Muslims in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995 and that the eventual aim was to overthrow Milosevic, also using economic destabilization and paramilitary actions.
"The same people were ordered to commit massacres in Srebrenica. They were paid by a foreign intelligence service in order to continue the demonization of the Serbs and raid the country's resources," Matic said.
A U.N. war crimes tribunal has indicted wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic for orchestrating the massacre. Both men remain at large.
As a throwaway line at the end of the news conference, Matic brought Kouchner into the picture.
"Kouchner is part of the structure recruited for Zaire," he said. "He is responsible for ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia."
Other hints dropped by Matic indicated that further briefings would also implicate the Serbian opposition in the plot, which follows charges last week the group planned an assassination attempt against Milosevic.
He made clear that Belgrade's key goal in airing the web of charges was to clear its name by muddying those of his enemies.
The West has vowed to isolate Serbia until Milosevic - indicted by a U.N. tribunal for alleged war crimes in Kosovo - loses power and Serbia's opposition is campaigning to oust him.
"It is our objective for the truth about all this to reach the world so we can see who are democrats, who are humanists in this world and who is part of a barbaric gang," Matic said.
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