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Bosnian Serbs Plead Innocent

February 17, 1998

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ The first two Bosnian Serbs to surrender to the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal pleaded innocent today, and _ in an unusual twist _ thanked U.S. diplomats and NATO troops for helping them turn themselves in.

Milan Simic and Miroslav Tadic surrendered Saturday in Bosnia to face charges they participated in a 1992 Serb terror campaign aimed at driving Bosnian Croats and Muslims out of Bosanski Samac in northern Bosnia.

After pleading innocent to one count of war crimes and crimes against humanity, Tadic said: ``I can only express my gratitude to those who made it possible for us to voluntarily come here without any coercion, especially the staff of the American Embassy.″

``After I am released, I will seek asylum here because I like it here very much,″ he added.

Seated in a wheelchair, Simic pleaded innocent to three charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

``I also would like to express my pleasant surprise at the very correct behavior″ of the NATO peacekeepers, said Simic, who was partially paralyzed in 1993 when his car hit a land mine. ``Everybody is going out of their way to help me.″

Prosecutors said they would not oppose any motion for provisional release of Simic pending the trial. A trial date was not set, and defense attorney Igor Pantelic did not immediately file for Simic’s release.

The surrenders could mark a turning point in the tribunal’s efforts to bring those accused of wartime atrocities to justice. In the past, Serbs have branded the court anti-Serbian and refused to stand trial here.

The vast majority of the 52 indicted suspects still at large are ethnic Serbs, including former Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his wartime military chief, Gen. Ratko Mladic.

Simic and Tadic were among six Serbs indicted in July 1995. A 10-page indictment alleges they participated in ``a campaign of terror″ against Bosnian Croat and Muslim residents of Bosanski Samac.

After taking control of the town in 1992, Serb authorities set up camps where non-Serbs were beaten, tortured, raped and killed, according to the indictment. Before 1992, about 17,000 non-Serbs were living in Bosanksi Samac; by May 1995 there were fewer than 300.

Simic, 37, was a town official at the time of the alleged crimes.

Tadic, 60, a former teacher, was chairman of the Bosnian Serb’s so-called ``Exchange Commission,″ which was in charge of prisoner exchanges but is believed to have carried out many killings.

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