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Milosevic denies link to Stambolic's abduction

BELGRADE, Sep 5, 2000 -- (Reuters) Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has denied any connection with the abduction of a political friend-turned-foe, the independent Beta news agency reported on Monday.

Beta quoted well-informed sources in the Macedonian capital Skopje as saying former Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov called Milosevic last week to discuss the disappearance of Ivan Stambolic, former Serbian president.

Stambolic vanished after going out jogging near his Belgrade home 10 days ago. Some reports said witnesses saw him bundled into a van at gunpoint.

Beta said Stambolic's wife Kaca had asked Gligorov to call the Yugoslav leader and ask him "for the sake of an old friendship" if he knew what had happened to her husband.

Milosevic told Gligorov he was not behind Stambolic's abduction, Beta said.

Beta's sources quoted Milosevic as saying the investigation had made little progress because Stambolic's family had not reported his disappearance until several hours after it happened and that could have given kidnappers time to flee the country.

Serbia's opposition has blamed Milosevic's authorities for the abduction, while pro-government media have suggested it was linked to Stambolic's business activities.

Beta said its sources quoted Milosevic as telling Gligorov that Stambolic had left politics and for years been just a businessman, trading with Bosnia's Serb Republic.

As president of Serbia in the 1980s, Stambolic was instrumental in Milosevic's rise to power but was forced out of politics in 1988 when Milosevic turned against him.

Stambolic's lawyer Nikola Barovic said he knew Gligorov had called politicians in Yugoslavia and elsewhere about the case.

He said Stambolic had maintained good relations with Gligorov, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic and with Slovenian President Milan Kucan and others.

Serbia and Montenegro are the only two remaining republics of Yugoslavia. Macedonia and Slovenia broke away in the early 1990s, as did Croatia and Bosnia.

Milosevic has called Yugoslav presidential and parliamentary elections as well as local polls in Serbia for September 24. Stambolic's name has been mentioned as a potential challenger to Milosevic.

The opposition has called the abduction politically motivated, while Kaca Stambolic has said her husband did not intend to go back into politics.



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