- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2002

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia Saying he was a victim of a "monstrous" fabrication, Serbia's deputy prime minister bowed to political pressure and resigned yesterday because of accusations that he spied for the United States.
Momcilo Perisic, who was detained by the military secret service last week along with a U.S. diplomat, said in a statement faxed to the Associated Press that "my discrediting … was staged in a style of the darkest dictatorial regimes."
Yugoslav military officials arrested Mr. Perisic and the American diplomat, John David Neighbor, in a Belgrade restaurant Thursday. In a breach of international conventions, Mr. Neighbor was held incommunicado for 15 hours, at one point reportedly with a hood over his head.
The military said Mr. Perisic, released Saturday, was giving documents to Mr. Neighbor that were "relevant for the defense of the country."
Other Yugoslav officials have said the documents could have been used against former President Slobodan Milosevic at his U.N. war-crimes trial in The Hague.
Both Mr. Perisic a former top Yugoslav army commander who served under Mr. Milosevic until he was fired in 1998 for opposing a crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and the U.S. Embassy have denied that any espionage took place.
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who controls the army, said Monday that the military secret service has shown Yugoslav and Serbian leaders "concrete" evidence that Mr. Perisic passed the secrets to Mr. Neighbor. He refused to elaborate, citing an ongoing investigation.
Both Mr. Kostunica and his bitter political rival, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, had asked Mr. Perisic to resign and refrain from invoking his parliamentary immunity to help the ongoing investigation which Mr. Perisic agreed to do.
On Monday, Mr. Kostunica's political party called on Mr. Djindjic to resign as well, saying his government was responsible for Mr. Perisic's "act of espionage."
The demand underscored a bitter rift between the pro-Western Serbian prime minister and Mr. Kostunica, a nationalist who has resisted cooperating with the U.N. tribunal.
Mr. Perisic said in the statement that "Serbia is today at a crossroads either it will disappear in the mist of a fake patriotism" by Mr. Kostunica's faction or will head toward political and economic reforms advocated by Mr. Djindjic's government.
"I won't allow their showdown with myself to bring down the Serbian government," Mr. Perisic said, alluding to Mr. Kostunica and his party.
Yesterday Mr. Djindjic nominally in control of the state security called on Mr. Kostunica to remove the military secret service chief, Gen. Aca Tomic, for failing to inform the Serbian government that Mr. Perisic had been followed for months during his meetings with the U.S. diplomat.
In a statement that further deepened the rift in the country's leadership, Mr. Djindjic said: "Until the question of Tomic's responsibility is not resolved in an appropriate manner, I see no possibility of any serious cooperation on the question of national security, either with the Yugoslav president or the Yugoslav army."


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