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Yugoslavia: Minister Denies Harboring War Crimes Suspects

Belgrade, 28 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Yugoslavia's interior minister has rejected accusations from the chief UN war crimes prosecutor for the former Yugoslavia that former Bosnian Serb wartime commander Ratko Mladic is being shielded from justice by the Yugoslav army. Zoran Zivkovic said last night that Mladic is not in Yugoslav territory and, to the best of his knowledge, is not under the protection of the Yugoslav army. Mladic was indicted for war crimes six years ago.

Chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte told the UN Security Council earlier yesterday that Mladic is living in Yugoslavia under the army's protection. She urged the council to press for the arrest of Mladic and former Bosnian Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic. She later said the tribunal has information indicating that Karadzic is in Serbia.

Zivkovic said that if Del Ponte knows where Mladic is in Yugoslavia, she "should say where the army is guarding him so the army and everyone else can respond."

Mladic and Karadzic have been indicted by the tribunal for atrocities committed against Muslims and Croats during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

Meanwhile, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana is set today to visit Kosovo's provincial capital, Pristina. His trip follows November elections in the UN-administered Serbian province. The vote was won by moderate ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, who has called for independence for Kosovo. The international community has rejected his call.

Yesterday, Solana met with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica in Belgrade and Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic in Podgorica. He urged the republics to stay together in the Yugoslav Federation. Solana said Serbia and Montenegro would see faster European integration together in Yugoslavia rather than as separate states. He said a reformed federation is "the best and fastest way."

Solana also said an independent Montenegro would have to repeat the "huge effort" Yugoslavia made over the previous year to return to international forums and financial institutions. He said the EU will "very strictly" monitor the process if Montenegro goes ahead with its plans to call a referendum on independence.

Separately, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica is scheduled today to begin a two-day visit to Britain. He is to meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Defense Minister Geoffrey Hoon, and International Development Minister Clare Short. He also will have an audience with Queen Elizabeth II.

Kostunica is expected to try and convince British leaders of Belgrade's commitment to economic and political reforms. Other topics on the agenda are Yugoslavia's eventual integration into the European Union, recent elections in the UN-administered province of Kosovo, Serbia's relations with Montenegro, and cooperation by Belgrade with the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic is traveling with Kostunica and will meet British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

The trip is Kostunica's first official visit to Britain.