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Serbia Denies Helping War Crimes Suspect - 2004-07-24

Serbia is denying that it helped a key war crimes suspect escape arrest, as alleged by prosecutors with the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal.

Serbian Justice Minister Zoran Stojkovic says no one in his republic's judiciary or police helped a top suspect escape.

Goran Hadzic, a former wartime leader, is accused of crimes against humanity and violations of customs of war in Croatia.

In 1992 and 1993, Mr. Hadzic lead the self-declared province of Krajina, a territory seized by Serbs in a rebellion against Croatia's declaration of independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

Chief U.N. Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has accused Serbian authorities of tipping Mr. Hadzic that there was a secret indictment against him.

Investigators say Mr. Hadzic left his home in Novi Sad, just hours after Serbian justice officials were informed of his arrest warrant earlier this month.

The dispute with the U.N. court comes amid growing frustration among Western leaders about Belgrade's perceived inaction in detaining more than a dozen suspects wanted by the tribunal, including top war crimes suspect Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic.

On Friday, NATO-led peacekeepers in Bosnia-Herzegovina arrested his former secretary, Rajko Banduka, on charges of "activities contrary to the Dayton agreement," which ended the Bosnian war.

There have been reports of secret negotiations for Mr. Mladic's surrender with the Serbian government and the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal. But Belgrade media have reported that Mr. Mladic has told the government through a mediator that he has no intention of surrendering.

Western diplomats say cooperation with the U.N. court is a key condition for crucial foreign aid for Serbia.