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Serb Opposition Leader Returning

July 2, 1999

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ A top Serb opposition leader will return to Yugoslavia despite a military court investigation into charges he dodged the draft, a close associate said Friday.

In an intensified crackdown against opponents, President Slobodan Milosevic’s government ordered criminal proceedings against Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic for draft evasion during NATO’s 78-day air campaign against Yugoslavia.

``The criminal proceedings will not prevent Djindjic from returning home,″ the party’s deputy leader, Zoran Zivkovic said. ``We expect him here next week.″

Djindjic, who has been abroad for weeks, first fled to Montenegro, Serbia’s smaller partner in the Yugoslav federation, at the beginning of the NATO airstrikes. Shortly after he left Belgrade, military authorities in the capital tried to serve him with a draft notice, but associates at his party’s headquarters refused to accept it.

Djindjic’s lawyers maintain that proceedings against him are baseless because he never receive the draft call.

``This is a political process constructed on lies,″ Djindjic’s lawyer Strahinja Kastratovic said, adding that the defense has not been allowed access to the court documents in the case.

When he recently toured NATO-member countries, Djindjic was not committing treason but was trying to avert a tragedy and convince the world that Kosovo’s problem should be solved by peaceful means, said his lawyer, Strahinja Kastratovic.

``Djindjic became the conscience of this regime, constantly reminding it of its fatal mistakes,″ he said. ``Therefore, his ... own safety is now in danger.″

Under Serbian law, a court investigation is a necessary step to determine whether there is evidence enough to indict, issue an arrest warrant and try a case. If tried and found guilty, Djindjic could face up to 20 years in prison.

Djindjic’s party is working to topple Milosevic as member of the main pro-democracy group, Alliance for Change. The alliance staged a large anti-Milosevic demonstration in central Serbia on Tuesday.

Three Alliance officials were detained by police Friday in the western Serbian town of Sabac as they collected signatures for a petition to oust Milosevic.

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