Serb officials pledge crackdown on 'terrorism'

BELGRADE, May 26, 2000 -- (Reuters) Senior allies of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic pledged on Thursday to step up the fight against "terrorism", with a hardline Serbian minister advocating the death penalty for such crimes.

"Anyone carrying out terrorist actions and killing our citizens upon an American order should face death penalty as well as those who are kidnapping our people,"Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj told a news conference.

Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, a top official of Milosevic's Socialist party, said separately that the state must fight terrorism more effectively.

The two spoke amid increased political tension in Serbia following the May 13 shooting of a senior government official and the government's seizure four days later of influential television station Studio B.

The government also believes its internal enemies have helped abduct suspected war criminals for trial by the International Tribunal at the Hague.

The authorities have accused the student-based Otpor (Resistance) movement and the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) of being behind this month's shooting of Bosko Perosevic, leader of the provincial Vojvodina government.

They have branded Otpor a "fascist-terrorist" organization, and police have arrested scores of its activists since the killing. The SPO, which controlled Studio B prior to the government takeover, and Otpor have denied involvement.

Seselj said his Radical Party was generally against capital punishment but that it should not be abolished until the situation in the country had normalized.

He also said capital punishment - now only in the Serbian criminal code - should be introduced for federal offences such as terrorism. Today, the harshest punishment for terrorism is 15 years' imprisonment.

Seselj, echoing the official line, accused Otpor and the opposition of acting on orders from the West to violently overthrow Milosevic.

"Since the country has constantly been under siege, under pressure from Western powers, sanctions, blockade, NATO aggressive terrorist actions, we must punish all those serving the Americans much more severely," he said.

Seselj said members of the alleged Pauk (Spider) network, currently on trial accused of attempting to assassinate Milosevic, should face the firing squad to set an example, as should the alleged abductors of an indicted war criminal.

Serbian police have arrested eight local people allegedly involved in the kidnapping of Bosnian Serb Dragan Nikolic "Yankee" in Smederevo, southeast of Belgrade, accusing them of being "mercenaries" and charging them with terrorism.

Sainovic said the Serbian government would propose legislation to strengthen "the struggle to completely eliminate terrorism speedily, efficiently, consistently."

He said it would "do everything to ensure this struggle is equally successful as the defense of the country against NATO aggression. I assure you it will be so," Sainovic said.

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