Abductors of Serb war crimes suspect caught

BELGRADE, Aug 2, 2000 -- (Reuters) The Serbian police said on Tuesday they had arrested a group of people suspected of abducting a UN war crimes indictee from inside Serbia in 1998 and handing him over to NATO troops.

"Through a coordinated action, employees of the Serbian Interior Ministry arrested members of a terrorist gang who back in 1998 at Mount Zlatibor kidnapped Stevan Todorovic and handed him over to those who ordered this kidnapping - SFOR," state news agency Tanjug said.

It was referring to the NATO-led Stabilization Force securing the peace following Bosnia's 1992-5 conflict.

"For this horrific act, the sale of their fellow national, the group received 50,000 German marks," it said, quoting criminal police chief General Major Dragan Ilic.

Todorovic, former police chief of the Bosnian town of Bosanski Samac, was indicted in 1995 with five other men. They were accused of orchestrating a campaign of terror aimed at ethnically cleansing the strategic town.

When he appeared at the tribunal in September 1998, Todorovic said he had been snatched from his holiday home in the Zlatibor mountains in central Serbia and taken across the Drina river to Bosnia.

There he was handed over to SFOR and taken to the tribunal in The Hague, he said. A SFOR spokeswoman said at the time Todorovic had been detained in Bosnia.

SFOR has no jurisdiction in Serbia, the dominant republic in Yugoslavia, whose president, Slobodan Milosevic, was indicted himself last year for allegedly ordering war crimes in Kosovo.

Todorovic has been fighting a legal battle in The Hague for his release and return to Yugoslavia on the grounds he was kidnapped. The tribunal is due to give a decision on Friday.

Tanjug said a total of eight people had been arrested for snatching Todorovic in a coordinated operation three days ago and were now under investigation on terrorism charges.

"On the basis of evidence and their personal statements it was established that they knew they were working on SFOR orders, said Ilic, adding that police were looking for several others.

He said the suspects had criminal records and no regular employment, had robbed the house and stolen Todorovic's car.

"The kidnappers who were in direct contact with those who ordered the kidnapping kept a part of the money for themselves and so cheated the rest of the group," he said.

"All those arrested admitted the offence and in their flats weapons, money and objects from this criminal act and previous ones were found," Tanjug said, adding that the investigation was continuing.

It was the second such arrest reported in less than three months. In May, Serb police said they had arrested eight "mercenaries" who had allegedly kidnapped Bosnian Serb indictee Dragan Nikolic and handed him over to international forces.

SFOR said its peacekeepers had detained Nikolic, a former camp commander in the Bosnian war, in northern Bosnia on April 22.

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