updated 7/19/2004 6:19:09 PM ET 2004-07-19T22:19:09

The chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor for the former Yugoslavia accused Belgrade authorities Monday of helping a fugitive escape by informing him of a secret warrant for his arrest.

Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said rebel Serb leader Goran Hadzic, indicted for alleged war crimes in 1992-1993, fled his northern Serbia villa Tuesday, just hours after U.N. prosecutors presented authorities with an arrest warrant.

“He left by car having taken a bag with him ... he has not returned to this house since that day,” Del Ponte said.

She said she had evidence, including photographs, documenting Hadzic’s escape.

Del Ponte did not say who tipped Hadzic off, but said it was the second time this year she had seen “indictees, located by my office, fleeing in a hurry just hours after the Belgrade authorities had been requested to act upon arrest warrants.”

She did not elaborate on the first case.

Del Ponte said she was “particularly surprised” by the timing of Hadzic’s escape, coming 10 days after new Serbian President Boris Tadic said in his first speech that cooperation with the tribunal was a priority.

If the Serbian government does not help arrest fugitives, it faces potential sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council.

Del Ponte earlier accused Belgrade of failing to cooperate in capturing top war-crimes suspects, including former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and top Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic.

In Belgrade, Serbia-Montenegro, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer warned Serbian leaders their chances of establishing closer ties with the alliance depended on their willingness to arrest and hand over suspects.

Pressure grows
Pressure is mounting on Serbia to capture and extradite Mladic, wanted for the 1995 massacre of as many as 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.

Mladic has been a fugitive since his indictment for Europe’s worst massacre of civilians since World War II.

“We understand your ambitions to become a member of NATO and the European Union, but for this to be realized, certain values have to be in place,” de Hoop Scheffer said on his first visit to Belgrade since becoming NATO’s leader earlier this year.

“We want to see a European Balkans after the horrible past of not so long ago. There is only one way and that is full cooperation with the International War Crimes Tribunal .... it is the message of values and it’s a simple message.”

The United States has made political and financial support for the impoverished republic dependent on Mladic’s arrest, while the European Union also says closer ties depend on Serbia’s cooperation with the U.N. court.

De Hoop Scheffer also said Serbia-Montenegro must drop a world court lawsuit the former Yugoslavia filed against NATO over the alliance’s 1999 bombing to halt then-President Slobodan Milosevic’s crackdown on the independence-seeking ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo.

May drop lawsuit
Serbia-Montenegro Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said the government was willing to drop the lawsuit if Bosnia and Croatia do the same with their lawsuits seeking redress for Yugoslav aggression during the 1991-1995 Balkan wars.

Hadzic, a wartime leader of the self-declared breakaway Serb republic of Krajina, has been accused of crimes against humanity and violations of the customs of war in eastern Slavonia, Croatia.

In 1992-1993, Hadzic was president of the self-styled province of Krajina, a territory seized by Serbs in a rebellion against Croatia’s declaration of independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

Croatia later regained the land in 1995, prompting 250,000 Krajina Serbs to flee Croatia for Serbia and Bosnia. Efforts to repatriate these refugees continue.

Croatia also has indicted Hadzic, accusing him of the 1991 shelling of the eastern city of Vukovar.

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