Sunday, November 21, 2004

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro — The mysterious shooting deaths of two sentries at a Serbian army barracks has led to accusations that Gen. Ratko Mladic — the so-called “Butcher of Bosnia” — is being hidden by military cronies in the Serbian capital with government connivance.

The sentries, Drazen Milovanovic and Dragan Jakovlievic, were found dead Oct. 5 in the sprawling Topcider army compound near Belgrade’s diplomatic residency quarter. Many in Belgrade believe Gen. Mladic and other indicted war crimes suspects are hiding in a network of bunkers and tunnels under Topcider.

An independent inquiry into the shootings was ordered, but a meeting this month of Serbia-Montenegro’s Supreme Defense Council to examine the findings was canceled abruptly, prompting talk about a cover-up.

An earlier military investigation, branded as ludicrous by the Serbian press, found that Mr. Milovanovic, 19, fatally shot Mr. Jakovlievic, 21, and then turned his rifle on himself.

But Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, whose party is a junior partner in the governing coalition, has charged that the sentries were slain by the secret service of the Security Information Agency.

That was necessary, he suggested, to ensure their silence about the presence at the barracks of men like Gen. Mladic, who is wanted by an international tribunal in The Hague for his role in the massacre of 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica, Bosnia, and other war crimes.

“Our soldiers are being killed outside the secret entrances of those whose hostages we are, and then they say these young guards shot each other,” Mr. Draskovic said. “They are hiding the crime with lies and new crimes.”

There was no response to Mr. Draskovic’s accusations from Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, a moderate nationalist who in the past was friendly with Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb president accused of masterminding the Srebrenica slaughter.

The United States earlier this year refused to allocate $40 million earmarked for Serbia as punishment for its failure to bring Gen. Mladic to justice. Belgrade repeatedly has denied Gen. Mladic is in Serbia.

The government also has said that concern for “political stability” prevents it from arresting three other generals wanted by The Hague and assumed to be in Belgrade, where they are popular with nationalists.

The government has urged the three to surrender voluntarily “for the good of Serbia,” which is under pressure to cooperate with The Hague tribunal.

But Mr. Kostunica’s failure to deal with the scandal has set his popularity tumbling as many young Serbs describe him as “Milosevic light,” a weaker version of the former strongman.

Serbia’s pro-Western president, Boris Tadic, also came under fire from critics after it was disclosed that as federal defense minister he had seen a photograph of another Hague indictee, Veselin Sljivancanin, hiding at an army barracks.

Mr. Sljivancanin was being sought for his suspected part in the massacre of hundreds of wounded Croatian prisoners after the besieged city of Vukovar fell to Serbian and Montenegrin forces.

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