The Observer - 'Would-be assassins used Nato bases'

Chris Bird in Belgrade

Thursday December 9, 1999

Belgrade revealed more details yesterday of a plan by French intelligence to assassinate the Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, with the aid of Bosnian Serb mercenaries.

Last month, the Yugoslav authorities said they arrested five Serbs, four of them from Bosnia and one with a French passport, as part of a group called "Spider", which the government says was used in Africa, the Balkans and latterly in a foiled attempt to kill Mr Milosevic.

The French government has denied any attempt to assassinate the Yugoslav leader, indicted for war crimes by a United Nations court, but did say Spider's ringleader, Jugoslav Petrusic, known as Colonel Dominique, has French nationality.

In Serbia the pro-government daily Politika, quoting unnamed security sources, said the group used Nato bases in neighbouring Bosnia to practise for an attack.

But most in Belgrade equate the tale with political links closer to home.

"It is a new farce by the regime aimed for internal consumption," said General Momcilo Perisic, an opposition politician who was sacked as the head of Yugoslavia's armed forces last year for opposing Mr Milosevic's policies.

Yesterday Yugoslavia's information minister, Goran Matic, repeated the accusation that all five were wanted by The Hague tribunal for war crimes but had been granted immunity in return for working for French intelligence.

He also promised more revelations which would show, he said, Bernard Kouchner, the Frenchman in charge of the UN administration in Kosovo, as part of the Spider group, saying he was carrying out the "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo's Serbs.

The government appears to be trying to shrug off repeated accusations made by the maverick opposition leader Vuk Draskovic that the government tried to kill him in October.

In that month Mr Draskovic, briefly a government minister earlier this year and leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), was injured and four of his associates killed when a truck collided with his convoy on a road near Belgrade.

When the Spider plot was first unveiled by the government, one of the five was said to have been trained in the technique of murder using trucks full of sand.

In yesterday's briefing, a document was shown purporting to prove that the television station controlled by Mr Draskovic bought equipment from a French company which Belgrade says is implicated in the scandal.

On Monday, SPO spokesman Ivan Kovacevic said the party would set up its own "self defence unit against state terrorism".

He added that the party was filing charges against the Serbian security service for carrying out what it called "state terrorism", saying it had staged the collision. Mr Matic denied the charges.

"Draskovic got his orders in Istanbul," he said of the SPO leader's recent trip to the western security summit in Turkey. "He has been told to blacken Yugoslavia's name and put more pressure on us, he was blackmailed into doing this."

http://www.newsunlimited.co.uk/Kosovo/Story/0,2763,112595,00.html

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