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2 Alleged Mladic Aides Plead Not Guilty

November 20, 2006

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) _ Two alleged aides of top war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic pleaded not guilty Monday to charges they provided food, shelter and transportation to the fugitive general.

Stanko Ristic, on trial along with 10 other Serbs accused of helping the wartime Bosnian Serb commander evade justice, denied he rented apartments for Mladic to help him hide.

``I did it for myself, for womanizing purposes,″ said Ristic, a former army helicopter pilot.

Ristic maintained he has not seen Mladic since 1995 and did not know he was wanted by the U.N. tribunal. Ristic said he only found out about the indictment when he himself was arrested in April.

Marko Lugonja, a former Bosnian Serb security officer, acknowledged he hosted Mladic for several days in his Belgrade flat in September 2002, but said he felt he was doing nothing wrong.

Sasa Badnjar, a third defendant who was part of Mladic’s security personnel during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, refused to enter a plea during the trial Monday, saying he would use silence as his defense.

Eleven defendants are accused of sheltering Mladic between June 2002 and January 2006 in several rented Belgrade apartments. They are also accused of providing food, cell phone cards and transportation.

If convicted, all 11 defendants face up to eight years in prison.

Serbia has been trying to convince the West that it is making every effort to track down Mladic, who has been charged by the Netherlands-based U.N. war crimes court with genocide in the 1995 slaughter of up to 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica and the three-year siege of Sarajevo during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

U.N. prosecutors believe Mladic is hiding in Serbia with the help of hard-liners in the police and military, as well as Serb loyalists.

Serbia’s failure to arrest Mladic has prompted the European Union to suspend its pre-entry talks with Serbia, and the United States to halt aid to the government in Belgrade.

In a reminder of the support Mladic still has in Serbia, Jovo Djogo, a former Mladic’s chief bodyguard who pleaded not guilty when the trial opened last week, denounced the charges against the 11 defendants as ``rigged.″

He has described Mladic as ``a hero and a patriot who has not committed any criminal act.″

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