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Hungary Extradites Former Yugoslav Pilot - 2002-06-23

Hungary has extradited a former Yugoslav fighter pilot to Italy in connection with the the shooting down of a European Union observer helicopter in Croatia a decade ago. Five EU officials were killed, including four Italians and a French citizen.

Hungarian justice officials say the former pilot, Emir Sisic, was transferred to Italy after spending more than a year in a Hungarian prison on an international arrest warrant.

Mr. Sisic was arrested by Hungarian border guards in May of last year, when he tried to enter the country from neighboring Yugoslavia, reportedly to buy medicines to treat his stomach cancer.

Both Croatia and Italy have demanded his extradition on charges that he shot down the EU observer helicopter during the Balkan wars in 1992. The four Italians and one French citizen on board as observers were killed.

A Croatian court later sentenced Mr. Sisic in absentia to 20 years' imprisonment for homicide. But in a statement, the Hungarian Justice Ministry said Minister Peter Barandy decided to extradite the Yugoslav national to Italy because four of the victims were Italian.

He was handed over to Italian authorities after a Budapest municipal court ruled there were no obstacles to the extradition.

Yugoslavia has in the past strongly objected to the arrest and extradition of Mr. Sisic, apparently on grounds that he fought in the defense of his country.

A spokesman for the Hungarian National Police, Laszlo Garamvolgyi, told reporters that the pilot admitted shooting down the helicopter. But the spokesman said he had pleaded not guilty on grounds that he had been acting under orders.

The arrest and extradition are seen as a new sign of intensive cooperation between former communist Hungary and the international police organization, Interpol.