Arkan may surrender to extradition

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SERBIA'S notorious paramilitary leader and indicted war criminal Arkan has made inquiries about travelling to Belgium, raising speculation that he may be planning to surrender to The Hague-based international war crimes tribunal.

Zeljko Raznatovic (Arkan is his nom de guerre) made his approaches last month through a lawyer. He received a dusty response from the Belgian authorities who said he would be extradited if he was found in the country. The request suggests that senior figures in the Milosevic regime are thinking hard about life after the fall of their president and protector.

According to the Belgian authorities, Arkan's approach came through a well-known lawyer, Pierre Chome, who contacted the prosecutor's office on 25 June to find out what would happen if the paramilitary leader travelled to Belgium.

His interest in Belgium is linked to the fact that he has a daughter living in Brussels. His legal position in Belgium is complicated, because he was jailed in Belgium in the late 1970s for a range of crimes and then escaped.

The time lapse means Arkan could not be re-arrested for the crimes for which he was serving his sentence in Belgium in the 1970s. Mr Colpin said Arkan could be detained on outstanding warrants for murder, the robbery of a jewellery store, and other crimes which were subsequently committed in Germany.

But his indictment at the UN's international war crimes tribunal in The Hague would mean that extradition to the Netherlands would take precedence. Some observers believe Arkan may have been exploring the possibility of a reduction in the charges against him in exchange for co-operation with the tribunal. Belgian news reports suggested he might surrender to the Belgian authorities, making way for a prosecution in the Hague with which he would co-operate.

The media pointed out that, as one of Mr Milosevic's closest aides, Arkan could provide substantial information about the planning of ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. But the tribunal argues that no plea-bargaining arrangements exist for indicted war criminals. "If you plead guilty and co- operate, that is taken into account in mitigation," a spokesman said yesterday. "But a plea-bargain is not something that can be offered."

As leader of the Serb militia called "The Tigers", Arkan is accused of masterminding some of the most vicious episodes of ethnic cleansing in Croatia in 1991 and Bosnia in 1992. He is thought to have been implicated in the massacre of more than 250 Croat men.