msnbc.com news services
updated 7/21/2008 6:09:31 PM ET 2008-07-21T22:09:31

Serbia will not extradite a Serb student wanted in the United States on assault charges, the foreign minister said Monday.

Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said Miladin Kovacevic would not be sent to the U.S. to face charges of beating a fellow university student because Serbian law does not allow extradition of its citizens.

"Kovacevic will not be extradited," Jeremic told independent B-92 television.

"Serbia is a sovereign and democratic country with an independent judiciary," Jeremic said, suggesting U.S. authorities should hand over the case file so Kovacevic could be prosecuted in Serbia.

Fled in early June
Kovacevic, 20, had been recruited to play basketball for Binghamton University in northern New York State, but fled the U.S. in early June after being charged in the severe beating of Bryan Steinhauer, 22, during a May 4 bar fight. 

Steinhauer remains hospitalized.

"This case has dealt a serious blow to the already strained relations between Washington and Belgrade," Jeremic said, adding that next week during this visit to the U.S. he will apologize to American officials who have sought Kovacevic's return to a U.S. court to face assault charges.

Serbia's pro-Western government, which took office last month, has pledged to improve U.S.-Serbian bilateral relations that have been strained over U.S. recognition of Kosovo's independence.

Jeremic said Serbia is investigating two consulate staffers who were removed from New York after allegedly helping Kovacevic obtain emergency travel documents that helped him flee after being freed on bail.

Jeremic said that "initial" investigation shows they had breached discipline and that they will face unspecified consequences.

Has joined a Serbian team
Since his return, Kovacevic has decided to join a Serbian basketball team in order to fight mental depression, his lawyer said, according to a WNBC report.

Belgrade's private Beta news agency said Kovacevic signed a contract to play for KK Vrbas, a team that plays in a regional Serbian league, WNBC said.

"Doctors said it would be good for him to start training because he has become depressive because of what has happened to him," Kovacevic's lawyer Veselin Cerovic was quoted as saying by Belgrade's Vecernje Novosti newspaper on Wednesday.

"He has to forget all the bad things that have happened to him, and the best medicine is to return to playing basketball," Cerovic said.

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