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NATO forces escort aide to war crimes suspect from hotel

September 9, 1997

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ NATO forces trying to end a standoff between rival Serb camps today escorted dozens of security men loyal to war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic from a hotel surrounded by angry Serbs.

Police loyal to Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic blocked access to the Hotel Bosna in the center of Banja Luka early today, cutting telephones, power and water. Momcilo Krajisnik, Karadzic’s top aide and the Serb member of Bosnia’s joint presidency, and several of his aides were trapped inside.

In an effort to defuse a potentially explosive situation, diplomats and officials of the NATO-led peace force negotiated with Krajisnik’s security men and Plavsic’s police to release him and other senior officials.

Shortly before 3 p.m., peace force troops escorted dozens of members of Krajisnik’s security team through a crowd of thousands chanting ``Thieves! Thieves!″ and demanding weapons reportedly found on them.

Initial reports indicated Krajisnik was among those who left. However, an Associated Press Television crew saw him and his associates about an hour later inside the hotel, still negotiating terms that would allow them to leave.

The episode was one of the most humiliating for top aides to Karadzic since they came to power and started fomenting the war that erupted in Bosnia in 1992, and one of the few times they have been publicly jeered by the people they are supposed to lead.

Earlier, Jovan Zametica, Krajisnik’s chief adviser, called the standoff a hostage crisis and stressed its outcome would have a ``profound effect″ not only on local elections scheduled for Sept. 13-14 but on the future of Bosnia.

Several thousand angry Plavsic supporters gathered in front of the Bosna hotel, chanting ``We want the arms,″ and ``Go to Pale,″ the Karadzic and Krajisnik stronghold east of Sarajevo.

In Pale, another senior man in the Karadzic camp, Aleksa Buha, and others in the ruling party told reporters they would demand postponement of the local elections because of the crisis.

But the Karadzic camp seemed in some disarray. Earlier, the ruling party had issued a statement calling on all Bosnian Serbs to go to Banja Luka to liberate their leaders.

Dragan Pecanac, spokesman for the pro-Plavsic police in Banja Luka, said his force had scoured the hotel for armed men who came to the city with Krajisnik ``in order to carry out terrorist activities.″

A senior NATO official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Krajisnik forces had used the guise of a rally called for Monday to try and stage a coup against Plavsic.

Only about 500 Karadzic backers made it to central Banja Luka for what was to be an early evening rally. Waving Karadzic posters, they chanted anti-Plavsic slogans, but were virtually drowned out by a larger crowd of her supporters, yelling ``Thieves! Thieves!″

Despite peacekeepers’ attempts to prevent clashes, police sources said five people were injured in overnight skirmishes between the two groups. According to the NATO official, Plavsic’s police arrested 13 pro-Karadzic policemen, while confiscating many weapons and explosives found in their vehicles.

NATO forces are helping enforce the provisions of the Dayton peace accord that ended the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

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