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NATO Troops Kill Bosnia War Suspect

January 9, 1999

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ NATO troops on Saturday shot to death a suspected Bosnian Serb war criminal accused of raping and torturing Muslim women.

The suspect, Dragan Gagovic, resisted arrest and drove his car directly at French soldiers in the NATO-led Bosnian peace force in the eastern town of Foca, NATO spokeswoman Maj. Sheena Thomson said.

The ``troops defended themselves by opening fire,″ Thomson said.

After the shooting, two U.N. police vehicles were demolished in Foca, residents said on condition of anonymity.

There were also unconfirmed reports that two U.N. police were abducted. But Frederike Seidel, a U.N. spokeswoman in Sarajevo, said she could not verify the reports.

Gagovic, 39, was sought by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, on suspicion of torturing and raping at least five Muslim women detained at a prison center in 1992.

The indictment also says he was aware of sexual assaults on other women and knew about the brutal living conditions for prisoners. He is formally charged with crimes against humanity.

It was unclear whether the French troops who regularly patrol Foca encountered Gagovic by chance or if they were actively looking for him.

In The Hague, tribunal spokesman Jim Landale expressed regret at the shooting and urged those publicly indicted by the tribunal to peacefully surrender.

Foca is believed to harbor at least eight suspected war criminals. Human Rights Watch, a private organization, refers to the town as a ``closed, dark place,″ where some of the worst atrocities of the Bosnian war were committed.

Last year, Milorad Krnojelac, another war-crimes suspect who lived in Foca, surrendered to NATO troops and is in custody in The Hague. He also was indicted for rape.

The U.S.-led NATO force in Bosnia says it will arrest any suspected war criminal it happens upon as part of its regular peacekeeping duties. More than 50 people have been indicted by the tribunal, and more than two dozen suspects have given themselves up or been apprehended by NATO troops, including one other Serb killed while resisting arrest.

Among those still at large and sought by the U.N. tribunal are former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the general commanding Bosnian Serb troops during the war. Critics say their continued freedom makes a mockery of any NATO commitment to arrest suspects and hinders attempts to return Bosnia to normality

Both were indicted in November 1995 for suspected genocide in the massacre of thousands of Muslims after Bosnian Serb forces captured Srebrenica, which had been designated as a U.N. ``safe zone.″