Sarajevo, 10 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - NATO officials say a Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect was killed today after he opened fire on British troops trying to detain him. Simo Drljaca, a former Bosnian Serb police chief, died when troops returned fire in self defense in a clash in the town of Prijedor in British-patrolled territory. Another Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect, Prijedor hospital administrator Milan Kovacevic, was apprehended today in a separate incident.
A NATO spokesman in Sarajevo, Chris Riley, said the troops came across the two suspects during regular duties and thus the event did not indicate a change in NATO's mandate, which does not call on the forces to seek out suspects.
U.S. National Security Advisor Samuel Berger said that the two had been indicted secretly by the war crimes tribunal at The Hague. The tribunal recently began indicting suspects in secret in an effort to aid arrests.
In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana praised the British NATO troops for their actions. In a statement, Solana said the troops, part of the NATO-led stabilization force (SFOR), had demonstrated professionalism and dedication. He also said that NATO will not tolerate behavior contrary to the Dayton peace agreement.
Solana, echoing comments by other NATO and western officials, said the British troops were operating under SFORs' long-standing mandate which allows it to detain indicted war criminals encountered in the regular course of duties.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook hailed the actions of the British soldiers, saying they had demonstrated courage. He said one had been shot in the leg but said the injury was not life threatening.
The Belgrade-based independent news agency BETA reports that Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic has protested the incident to NATO officials.