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Former Yugoslav Army Chief Surrenders to War Crimes Tribunal - 2002-04-25

Yugoslavia's former army chief has surrendered to the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague. The man who led Yugoslav forces in Kosovo is the first of a handful of Serb suspects who say they will voluntarily surrender to the tribunal rather than face arrest.

Retired Yugoslav army General Dragoljub Ojdanic said he felt like a hero as he boarded a commercial flight from Belgrade Thursday for the flight to The Hague. He said, he will prove his innocence and that the charges against him are unfounded.

Tribunal prosecutors say that General Ojdanic - as head of the Yugoslav army - was responsible for the 1999 deportation of 800,000 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and the murder of more than 900 others. The prosecutors have charged him with five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including deportation, murder, and persecution.

General Ojdanic is one of six indicted men who have said they will turn themselves over to the tribunal rather than face arrest.

Tribunal spokesman Jim Landale said he welcomes the general's arrival in The Hague, but said it is only the first step.

"Hopefully, his arrival will mark the beginning of a process which will see the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia fully living up to all its obligations under international law and ensuring that there are no individuals indicted by this tribunal remaining on their territory," Mr. Landale said. Yugoslav authorities delivered 18 indictments Wednesday to a Belgrade court against other suspects who are refusing to cooperate. They include former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, General Ratko Mladic. The Belgrade court must now issue warrants and order police to arrest the suspects, although Serb authorities have said that for now, both Mr. Karadzic and General Mladic are out of their reach.

The Yugoslav action came in response to increasing pressure from the United States, which is making millions of dollars in aid conditional on Yugoslav government cooperation with the war crimes tribunal. U.S. officials have said they want to see the indicted men in The Hague before they release the funds.

As for General Ojdanic, his lawyer has said he is physically and psychologically ready for the battle ahead of him. He is likely to appear before judges Friday to answer to the charges - in the same courthouse where his former boss, former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milsoevic, is now on trial.

General Ojdanic says he will not testify against his former president, though, because there is nothing to say.