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Serbian War Crimes Suspect Transferred to Hague Tribunal - 2003-06-11

Serbia's former state security chief, Jovica Stanisic, has been transferred to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague to face charges relating to ethnic cleansing operations in Croatia and Bosnia that left hundreds dead. Charges against the long time ally of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic include persecution and murder.

Jovica Stanisic headed Serbia's state security service at a time when, prosecutors say, it established some of the most feared paramilitary groups in the Balkans, including Arkan's Tigers.

Prosecutors say the purpose of these so-called illegal secret units was to conduct special military operations in Croatia and Bosnia, all with the aim of ethnically cleansing the area of non-Serbs.

They did that, say prosecutors, through a campaign of murder, persecution, and deportation in conjunction with local authorities. Hundreds were left dead in operations from 1991 to 1995.

Mr. Stanisic is charged with five counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including the murder of 255 people from Croatia's Vukovar hospital, in a single violent episode.

Prosecutors say Mr. Stanisic, along with his number two man, Franko Simatovic, or Frenki, directed, organized, financed, trained and armed the paramillitaries. Both men were sent to The Hague - Mr. Stanisic following recent colon surgery - after their arrest in Serbia.

The two were captured in a sweep following the March assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Mr. Simatovic pleaded not guilty to the same five charges last week.

Judith Armatta, who follows court proceeding for the Coalition for International Justice, said both Mr. Simatovic and Mr. Stanisic's names have come up in the Milosevic trial.

"We heard some damning testimony from Arkan's secretary, who said they did not do anything without the state security service, meaning Simatovic and Stanisic, giving them orders and telling them what to do. So what we have here is some pretty significant people," she said.

Both Mr. Simatovic and Mr. Stanisic are named as co-conspirators in the Milosevic indictment.

Jovica Stanisic's lawyers say he has been talking with prosecutors for some time, leaving open the possibility that he could testify against his former boss, who fired him in 1998, allegedly over disagreements concerning Kosovo.