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Top Serbian War Crimes Suspect Arrested - 2003-06-13


One of Serbia's top war crimes suspects is in a Belgrade jail after Serbian police stormed his apartment early Friday. Former Yugoslav National Army Colonel Veselin Sljivancanin was taken into custody on charges of involvement in a 1991 massacre during Croatia's war for independence from Yugoslavia.

Mr. Sljivancanin had threatened to blow up himself rather than surrender to the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

But after a 10-hour standoff, police managed to arrest him after heavily armed commandos broke down an armored door and stormed his apartment in a suburb of the Serbian capital, Belgrade.

Witnesses said that while the police action was under way several hundred supporters of Mr. Sljivancanin were filling the street, throwing stones, setting fires and clashing with police.

Over 100 riot police, many of them in camouflage uniforms, held off the hostile crowd as commandos raided the apartment. Mr. Sljivancanin had long been a fugitive but apparently returned home to celebrate his 50th birthday.

He was indicted in 1995 by the U.N. war crimes tribunal for alleged complicity in the massacre of 200 Croat and other non-Serb civilians after Yugoslav troops captured the Croatian town of Vukovar in 1991.

Two other suspects wanted in connection with the Vukovar massacre, Miroslav Radic and Mile Mrksic, have surrendered and are awaiting trial in The Hague.

As Mr. Sljivancanin was being taken away by police, battles flared up again, injuring demonstrators and police.

Supporters of the former officer say the current government is no more than an instrument of the United States and other Western powers. Serbian officials have acknowledged that the latest arrest is linked to more American aid for the troubled former Yugoslav republic.

The United States government is to certify this week to Congress that Belgrade is co-operating with the U.N. court on rounding up war crimes suspects, a step essential for the release of further economic aid worth a total of $110 million this year.

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