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Serb court charges abductors war crimes suspect

BELGRADE, Aug 23, 2000 -- (Reuters) A Serbian regional court charged seven men on Tuesday with terrorism, accusing them of abducting a war crimes suspect indicted by the United Nations from Serbia in 1998 and handing him over to NATO troops.

The independent Yugoslav news agency Beta quoted the charge sheet as saying the group had planned and, in agreement with the international forces in Bosnia (SFOR), kidnapped Stevan Todorovic from Rudina at Mount Zlatibor on the night of September 26-27, 1998.

The court in Serbia's central town of Uzice named the accused as Ignjatije Popovic, Djordje Maksimovic, Djura Dragovic, Zivko Abasevic, Rodoje Erakovic, Branko Zivkovic and Milan Popovic.

Branimir Petronijevic, the regional public prosecutor, said they had committed "the gravest criminal act in the Zlatibor region". If convicted, they face up to 15 years in jail.

Serb police arrested all members of the group three weeks ago, except for Ignjatije Popovic who remains at large.

It was the second such arrest reported in three months. In May, Serb police said they had arrested eight "mercenaries" who had allegedly kidnapped indicted Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Dragan Nikolic and handed him over to international forces.

SFOR said its peacekeepers had detained Nikolic, a former camp commander in the Bosnian war, in northern Bosnia in April.

In 1995, the war crimes tribunal in The Hague indicted Todorovic, former police chief of the Bosnian town of Bosanski Samac, and five other men accused of orchestrating a campaign of terror aimed at ethnically cleansing the strategic town during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

TODOROVIC SAID HE WAS KIDNAPPED

When he appeared at the Tribunal in September 1998, Todorovic said he had been kidnapped from his holiday home in central Serbia and taken across the Drina river to Bosnia.

There he was handed over to SFOR and taken to The Hague, he said. A SFOR spokeswoman said at the time Todorovic had been detained in Bosnia.

Beta quoted charges as saying the group put Todorovic in a Mercedes with German license plates and took him to the Drina river which they then crossed by boat.

He was then handed over to the SFOR to be flown from the Bosnian town of Tuzla to The Hague, Beta said.

According to the charge sheet, SFOR paid the group DEM 50,000 (USD 23,200) which they shared amongst themselves.

SFOR has no jurisdiction in Serbia, the dominant republic in Yugoslavia, whose president, Slobodan Milosevic, was himself indicted last year for allegedly organizing war crimes in the country's southern province of Kosovo.

Todorovic has conducted a legal battle to secure his return to Serbia. But a document from the court in The Hague on May 3 showed it had rejected his appeal to hear evidence to back his contention that he had been kidnapped.

On Tuesday, the Uzice court charged two more people, also belonging to the group accused of kidnapping Todorovic, Dragan Zivkovic and Nebojsa Suvajdzic, with illegal possession of firearms and ammunition and theft, Beta said.



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