- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 16, 2002

A U.S. diplomat and the Serbian deputy prime minister were detained by Yugoslavian military police in Belgrade yesterday, and the American was roughed up and held for 14 hours, State Department officials said.
The Serbian official, Momcilo Perisic, was charged with passing secret documents, possibly evidence of Slobodan Milosevic's involvement in war crimes, to the U.S. diplomat, who was identified by the Yugoslav military as John David Neighbor.
The diplomat was having dinner with Mr. Perisic when the two were accosted by military men wearing civilian clothing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
The diplomat did not need medical treatment and was not hospitalized after he was released to the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade.
"The United States is outraged by this unwarranted detention of a U.S. diplomat," Mr. Boucher said.
"We are forcefully protesting these actions by the Yugoslav military to the Yugoslav civilian authorities, including the president's office.
"Those who detained them were later identified as military police of the Yugoslav army. They were not wearing uniforms, they presented no identification, and they proceeded to interrogate our diplomat," Mr. Boucher added.
Mr. Perisic was a former chief of staff of the Yugoslav army. He was fired in 1998 for opposing Mr. Milosevic's policies of repression against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
Danas newspaper told Reuters news agency that investigators found audio recordings of meetings of the Yugoslav army chiefs of staff in the diplomat's briefcase.
Other reports said Mr. Perisic was passing documents to the U.S. diplomat.
Mr. Boucher, who would only identify the U.S. diplomat as a first secretary, said there is no justification for detaining an accredited diplomat, no matter what his actions.
Even diplomats caught in the process of espionage may not be detained under international diplomatic rules and may only be expelled.
Yugoslav media reported that the Yugoslav and Serbian governments held a joint session, with the latter demanding the release of Mr. Perisic.
Radio B-92 said Mr. Perisic had been brought to the Serbian government building "dressed like a detainee," with the laces removed from his shoes. Reporters later saw him driven away in an army van escorted by two jeeps.
The incident was likely to exacerbate tension between the government of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and moderate nationalist Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who commands the army.
Mr. Djindjic called the arrests "a first-rate scandal" and said the military secret service has "gone out of control."
The U.S. diplomat "was detained with a bag over his head, had no translator nor a lawyer," Mr. Djindjic said.
Croatia convicted Mr. Perisic in absentia for shelling the Adriatic city of Zadar when he was a Yugoslav army commander in 1991 at the start of the Croatian war. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 1996.
After he split with Mr. Milosevic, currently on trial for genocide at The Hague, Mr. Perisic founded the Movement for Democratic Serbia, joined the coalition that toppled Milosevic in 2000, and in January 2001 became a deputy prime minister in the Serbian government.
A ranking Yugoslav government official, who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Perisic was arrested "on suspicion of espionage."


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