BELGRADE, Nov 26, 1999 -- (Reuters) Yugoslavia on Thursday accused French spies of being behind a "terrorist" group which it said had planned to assassinate President Slobodan Milosevic.
A senior government official said the country's security service last week arrested five men on Yugoslav territory who belonged to an organization called Spider, which he said took instructions from Paris.
"We have arrested a number of French spies," Yugoslav Information Secretary Goran Matic told a news conference. "France was caught red-handed."
Matic said the group had planned four different scenarios for assassinating the Serbian strongman.
These included a sniper attack, the planting of an explosive device in a car on a route along which Milosevic was expected to travel as well as having 10 well-trained men storm his residence.
Asked who was behind the alleged assassination plan, Matic said: "I repeat: French intelligence was behind them (those arrested)."
The French Foreign Ministry in Paris declined immediate comment on the accusations.
Matic said French intelligence had been present in the territory of former Yugoslavia for a decade, saying it had been involved in liquidating "undesired citizens."
It was trying to destabilize the country by forming paramilitary forces made up of criminals, he said. He accused France of also being behind genocide and other crimes in the area.
"The arrest of this group and the documentation gathered shed new light on the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the involvement of France in that process," Matic said.
Matic sees infiltration of army
Matic said that during NATO's March-to-June bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, the men had infiltrated the Yugoslav army in Kosovo. He said they had killed ethnic Albanians and looted their houses and that this was now being investigated.
Allegations of atrocities against ethnic Albanians by Yugoslav forces helped rally Western opinion behind the NATO bombardment of Kosovo. Yugoslavia has consistently denied responsibility for widespread murders and looting in the breakaway province before and during the NATO campaign.
Matic identified the alleged leader of the group as Jugoslav Petrusic, saying he had dual Yugoslav and French citizenship.
"Jugoslav Petrusic has been a member of French intelligence service for some 10 years. He spent some time in Bosnia and Herzegovina and lately he was present in Yugoslavia," Matic said.
Matic said Petrusic claimed during interrogations that he had killed around 50 people on behalf of French intelligence. He also accused Petrusic of involvement in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of Muslim men during the Bosnian war.
"His paramilitary group was controlled by French intelligence, not by Republika Srpska (Bosnia's Serb republic)," Matic said.
The other four accused men were Bosnian or Serbian citizens whom Matic said were recruited at the end of the conflict in Bosnia.
"France made a deal with them - they will not be charged in front of (the U.N. war crimes tribunal in) The Hague as long as they are working for them," Matic said.
He said one of those arrested was a specialist in carrying out assassinations using trucks loaded with sand.
"He claimed he carried out some 15 such assassinations at the order of the French intelligence service," Matic said.
Serbia's main opposition party, the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), has accused the country's secret police of being behind a fatal car crash in early October. Four SPO officials were killed when their cars collided with a truck loaded with sand.
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