Serb spy trial behind closed doors

BELGRADE, Jul 5, 2000 -- (AFP) A Belgrade judge ruled on Tuesday that the trial of five members of an alleged Serbian paramilitary group charged with spying for France would be held behind closed doors.

The prosecution had asked that the trial be closed to the public when it opened in Belgrade last week, arguing that confidential and secret documents would be examined and that members of the police, army and state security force would testify.

The group was first heard of in November when Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic told reporters that five men belonging to an organisation he called Pauk (Spider) had been arrested in the country.

Matic said that state security had caught the alleged French spies "red handed" and accused France of actively working during the past decade to dismantle the former socialist Yugoslav federation.

Paris denied having anything to do with the group.

Matic said the group had, among other things, planned to assassinate Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, but defense lawyers have said this was not mentioned in the official charges.

The five - Jugoslav Petrusic, 38, Milorad Pelemis, 36, Slobodan Orasanin, 47, Branko Vlaco, 45, and Rade Petrovic, 26 - were charged in May with spying for French intelligence during last year's NATO air war against Yugoslavia, state media said.

Petrusic, Pelemis and Petrovic were also accused of murdering two ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, the Serbian province now under de facto international rule, the pro-government Politika daily said in May.

The charges carry a maximum 20 years imprisonment.

Petrusic, a naturalized French citizen, testified during Tuesday's session, the independent Beta news agency said, quoting a defense lawyer. It gave no details.

Also on Tuesday, a higher court rejected a defense request to disqualify the president of the Belgrade court for not allowing the defendants to look into case documents during the investigation while Matic gave details about the case to media.

The higher court also rejected a defense request to disqualify the prosecutor, deputy prosecutor and presiding judge as well as its request to move the trial to a military court because the defendants were in the army when the alleged crimes took place.

Original article