Belgrade starts criminal investigation of Dutchmen

BELGRADE, Aug 15, 2000 -- (Reuters) Belgrade has launched a criminal investigation into the mysterious case of four Dutchmen said to have wanted to kidnap or kill Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, a lawyer said on Monday.

Zoran Jovanovic said he had been appointed by relatives of three of the four men, who were shown on state television at the end of last month saying they had come to Yugoslavia to chase indicted war criminals, Milosevic in particular.

One of them said if they had met Milosevic they would have put him in a ski box on top of their car and driven it home or, if that failed, cut off his head and sent it to The Hague, home of the United Nations war crimes tribunal for ex-Yugoslavia.

Western officials have dismissed allegations by Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic that the men were actually Western spies, and diplomats have said they seem to be adventurers who fell into the hands of the Serb police.

They are believed to have been arrested more than a month ago, but, in contrast to the case of two Canadians and two Britons detained two weeks later in Montenegro, Dutch diplomats have had no access and little information has been released.


Jovanovic confirmed reports from The Hague on Friday that they had already been convicted to 30 days in jail for entering Yugoslavia without visas, a sentence due to end on August 18.

"Today I found out that the prosecutor has started a case and pressed charges against them for a criminal act, which is much more serious," he said by telephone, adding that he had not been told exactly what the charges were.

He said a hearing, at which a judge would gather evidence and decide whether to proceed with the case, would begin on Tuesday and that he expected to attend it and afterwards to visit the men.

Matic said they were arrested by police in a remote area called Mehov Krs, near Serbia's southwestern boundaries with Kosovo, now under international control, and the republic of Montenegro, which ignores Yugoslav visa requirements.

The British and Canadians, who were arrested by an army patrol in Montenegro, are being tried in the military court in Belgrade, which ended a pre-trial hearing on Monday into whether to charge them with terrorism.

They have denied the charges, saying they were on leave from jobs as part of the international reconstruction effort in Kosovo, where NATO air strikes ended fighting between Serb forces and separatist ethnic Albanian guerrillas last year.

Diplomats from Britain and Canada were allowed to visit them for the first time last week and said they appeared to be well.

It was not clear to what extent the Dutch were speaking freely when they testified on television and Jovanovic said he thought they had not had a lawyer for the first case, which falls under administrative rather than criminal law.

Getting details about them had been difficult, he said.

"I was told to call the prosecutor today. Then I rang today and they told me the prosecutor was on holiday," he said.

As for possible charges, he said it was too early to say.

"I will see what evidence the prosecutor has. It sounds like a joke," he said. "This situation here is something else."

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