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Serbian Regime Braces Against Renegade Unit

Yugoslavia: Security steps stem from fears of a coup by Red Berets. The force, created by Milosevic, is protesting arrests of war crimes suspects.

November 17, 2001|From Associated Press

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — Heavily armed police took up positions Friday at Serbia's government and police headquarters in Belgrade as a precaution against a rebellious elite unit protesting the arrest of war crimes suspects.

The officers, clad in flak jackets and armed with submachine guns, were deployed amid fears that the Red Berets might attempt to stage an armed coup. Belgrade is the capital of both Yugoslavia and its dominant republic, Serbia.

The Red Berets, an anti-terrorist force, have barricaded themselves inside their base in northern Serbia and have blocked a major highway and a bridge in Belgrade in a week of protests.

The unit, created under former President Slobodan Milosevic, has rejected the arrest of Serbian war crime suspects slated for extradition to the U.N. war crimes tribunal without a special extradition law.

They have also refused to accept a Serbian government decree placing them under the control of the general police--instead of the secret service--and have demanded the resignation of Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic, who is in charge of police.

The elite force has received tacit support from Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who says a special law on extradition is needed before any suspects can be delivered to the Netherlands-based court. He has been opposed by Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who says Yugoslavia, as a United Nations member, is obligated to cooperate with the world body and its tribunal.

Djindjic ally Ljubodrag Grbic said Friday that the unit had "gone outside legal and constitutional control," adding that its show of force was "tantamount to an anti-government coup."

On Friday, the Red Berets positioned armored carriers and guards with submachine guns outside their base in Kula, north of Belgrade, in a continuation of their protest.

Red Beret members say they were tricked last week into arresting two Serbian brothers, wanted by the U.N. tribunal on suspicion of war crimes, after allegedly being told the two were sought as common criminals. The brothers were subsequently extradited by the tribunal.

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