UN Tribunal denies sending assassins to YU
AMSTERDAM, Aug 2, 2000 -- (Reuters) The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia on Tuesday strongly denied links to a group of Dutchmen held in Serbia on suspicion of plotting to murder Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
Yugoslavia said on Monday it had arrested four Dutchmen sent by Western intelligence agencies who were planning to kidnap Milosevic and other alleged war criminals indicted by the Hague tribunal.
"I would call it pretty good fiction," said Paul Risley, spokesman for the tribunal. "This story is fiction and nothing more," he told Reuters by telephone from Spain.
With pictures of the four and their alleged cache of weapons spread across most Dutch newspapers, the Dutch government raised the tempo of its own denials and said it was trying to find out more about the incident.
"We deny any military operation," said a Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman. He said Dutch diplomats were trying to make contact with their Yugoslav counterparts in the Hague and in Belgrade to find out more about the incident.
Friends and colleagues of one of those detained, Godfried de Rie, reacted to the news with shock.
"He is a dead honest, hardworking man who never planned to kidnap President Milosevic," Jaap Havik, the owner of a Mercedes restoration firm that employed de Rie, told Dutch television. "He's always working on cars and motorbikes."
A next door neighbor of de Rie's described him as a perfectly normal person who once worked as a postman.
On Monday, Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic said the men were posing as amateur "weekend warriors" but were in fact assassins sent by the West.
He said the men had been caught in Mehov Krs, an isolated corner of Serbia near Kosovo and Montenegro, about 450 km (300 miles) south of Belgrade.
Matic showed a film in which one of the four, named as Jeroen van Iersel, told an unidentified questioner that he and his friends had been looking for people indicted by the UN tribunal.
The Dutch spokesman said the Foreign Ministry was investigating reports that the group was arrested as long as two weeks ago.
"We will continue our efforts and go to the (Yugoslav) Foreign Ministry to ask why we were not told earlier of their arrest," the spokesman said.
He added that de Rie had done his military service in the army in 1989. "But he was an administrator, hardly a paratrooper."
The Dutch Foreign Ministry named the others as Bas van Schaik, Sander Zeitsen and van Iersel. All are aged between 28 and 32.
"We are pretty sure that they are neither military nor involved in military things," the spokesman said.
The United States has offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest of Milosevic, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, who commanded Bosnian Serb forces during the 1992-95 conflict in Bosnia.
In the film shown to journalists in Belgrade, van Iersel said he knew Milosevic and Mladic were among those indicted. He said that if he met the Yugoslav leader he would have been put in a ski box on top of a car and driven out of the country.