Bosnian police chief may escape war crimes trial

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A Bosnian Serb accused of war crimes could be freed on a technicality after it was claimed that he was snatched by bounty hunters in Serbia, smuggled out and handed to American troops. Nato fears that a negative judgment in the test case in The Hague, in the Netherlands, would spell the end of attempts to bring to justice other figures in Serbia.

A Bosnian Serb accused of war crimes could be freed on a technicality after it was claimed that he was snatched by bounty hunters in Serbia, smuggled out and handed to American troops. Nato fears that a negative judgment in the test case in The Hague, in the Netherlands, would spell the end of attempts to bring to justice other figures in Serbia.

Stevan Todorovic, 43, a former police chief, is accused of taking part in "ethnic cleansing" at Bosanski Samac, north-east Bosnia. Mr Todorovic, charged with crimes against humanity and violations of the customs or laws of war, is said to have beaten a man to death.

The circumstances of his arrest and his transfer to The Hague have put a question mark over his trial and future attempts to snatch war-crime indictees living in Serbia.

He said he was removed by masked men from a cottage in south-east Serbia in September 1998, smuggled into Bosnia and handed to troops in the Nato-led Stabilisation Force (Sfor). A newspaper said those involved were bounty hunters including a former Bosnian Serb commander whose men took part in the Srebrenica massacre. Sfor has not commented on how the suspect came to be in Bosnia.

Deyan Ranko Brashich, Mr Todorovic's attorney, said the arrest broke international law and infringed Yugoslav sovereignty and that his client should be returned to Serbia. Arrests had to be "by lawful means", he said, adding that "a defendant who has been unlawfully abducted must be returned to the place of abduction".

Sfor said that to do so would give Serbia, which has refused to co-operate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, legal status as a "safe haven". A ruling is expected soon after judges return from their summer break at the end of the month.

The seriousness with which the tribunal is viewing the case alarmed Nato officials, who expected the plea for Mr Todorovic's release to be dismissed. Instead, the court asked Sfor for more information about his arrest. Sfor refused to do comply, arguing that "any further disclosure would prejudice important operational security interests and jeopardise Sfor's ability to detain indictees in the future".

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