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Belgrade Dismisses War Crimes Claims Against Army Chief

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Serbian Army General Ljubisa Dikovic ( photo)

Serbian Army General Ljubisa Dikovic ( photo)

Serbia's war crimes prosecutor has rejected war crimes allegations raised by a Belgrade-based human rights group against the country's new armed forces chief of staff.

Prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic said his office has "determined there is no basis" to suspect General Ljubisa Dikovic was criminally responsible for war crimes in Kosovo during 1998 and 1999.

The Humanitarian Law Fund alleged this week that Dikovic was responsible for war crimes committed by Serb security forces in the Drenica region of Kosovo where he commanded Yugoslav Army troops during the Kosovo conflict.

Natasa Kandic, founder of the rights group, says Dikovic's role as a Yugoslav Army commander during the conflict should be carefully examined by Belgrade authorities and reported to Serbian President Boris Tadic.

She alleges that Dikovic "failed on his obligation" to prevent Serb forces from committing atrocities against ethnic Albanian civilians in parts of Kosovo under his control.

In December, Tadic appointed Dikovic as chief of staff of Serbia's armed forces.

During the Kosovo conflict, Dikovic was the commander of the 37th Motorized Brigade of the Yugoslav Army, which was deployed in the Drenica region where numerous war crimes were alleged to have been committed -- mainly by Serb paramilitaries and Serbian Interior Ministry police during the spring of 1999.

Kandic charges that Dikovic was obliged to prevent crimes, and that he even admitted crimes were committed by soldiers under his command.

Among the atrocities Kandic says Dikovic should have prevented was the mass execution of at least 130 Kosovo Albanian men in late March 1999 near the village of Izbica -- an incident cited by the UN war crimes tribunal in its indictment against then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Kandic says some evidence to support her group's allegations against Dikovic comes from material collected by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia -- including Dikovic's own testimony there, in which he described "terrible crimes" happening.

"First of all, we have Izbica: Dikovic's testimony as defense witness before the ICTY is pretty clear. Not once did he deny his units were in Izbica. He said they had contact with civilians. In other discussions, based on prosecution questions, he said that the army -- his units actually -- entered Izbica village. But then he said they only wanted to stop the shooting and get the civilians out."

Research by the international campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW) concludes that atrocities against civilians in the Drenica area most often were carried out by Serb paramilitary fighters or masked Serbian Interior Ministry police -- including summary executions, the burning of prisoners alive using gasoline, robberies, extortion, rape, and torture.

That research, as well as interviews conducted by RFE/RL with survivors of the conflict, shows the role of Yugoslav Army troops under Dikovic's command most often was to surround villages while paramilitaries and police carried out house-to-house searches for fighters from the Kosovo Liberation Army.

While witness testimony has implicated Yugoslav Army soldiers in some Drenica region atrocities, there also are cases documented by Human Rights Watch in which ethnic Albanians said army soldiers prevented Serb paramilitaries or Interior Ministry police from killing civilians.

Serbian Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovic has dismissed the allegations against Dikovic by the Humanitarian Law Fund, saying the group's report is flawed.

"Lieutenant General Dikovic is truly inappropriately -- and in some instances truly monstrously -- accused for crimes he allegedly participated in by approving them or ignoring them," Sutanovic says. "I must say that before Dikovic was appointed, we conducted all background checks in regards to his past. And [this week] we checked all claims made in this report. So I can say it is completely false."

Sutanovic says Belgrade will react adequately to the allegations and that Divkovic will seek to protect his reputation by suing Kandic and her organization for libel.

Dikovic himself had no immediate comment about the allegations.

There also was no immediate reaction from Kosovo's government in Pristina.

About 10,000 people died in the Kosovo war. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

Written by Ron Synovitz with reporting by RFE/RL's Balkan Service correspondent Branka Trivic in Belgrade

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