The Times Nov 11 98 SAS carried out Serbia raid War crimes suspect seized at mountain hideout, writes Tom Walker.

Di De Perlinghi Alexandre - 14 novembre 1998

The Times Nov 11 98 SAS carried out Serbia raid War crimes suspect seized at mountain hideout, writes Tom Walker.

WESTERN diplomatic sources confirmed that a war crimes suspect arrested

in Bosnia in September was actually seized by SAS troops inside Serbia.

The regiment’s most daring snatch operation to date sent a clear warning

to President Milosevic that his country was no longer a haven for those

wanted for trial in The Hague.

Stevan Todorovic, indicted for a string of alleged crimes against Muslims

and Croats in 1992, was handed by Nato to the International Criminal

Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on September 27. The information given

by the Nato-led Stabilisation Force in Sarajevo was that he had been

arrested by American troops in northern Bosnia. Soon afterwards, the

Serbian press quoted family members as saying that Mr Todorovic had been

seized from a log cabin in the remote mountain region of Zlatibor in

western Serbia, about 50 miles from the Drina river border with Bosnia.

Despite denials by Nato, the story persisted. American sources in Serbia

admitted that their elite Delta units were involved in an operation that

had crossed the Drina. Now another Western source has disclosed that the

SAS had penetrated the mist-shrouded plateau of Zlatibor.

“It was a classic mission. They will never admit it themselves, but

it will probably come out in a book someday,” said the source. “It’s

no bad thing that people know this was the work of the SAS. It’s a

deliberate frightener for Milosevic - that’s policy now.”

Several of those wanted in The Hague for crimes committed in Bosnia

are believed to live in Serbia. They include General Ratko Mladic, the

Bosnian Serb military commander held responsible for the Srebrenica

massacre. Some observers believe the Zlatibor raid was a trial run.

Angry relatives of Mr Todorovic told The Times that the former policeman

was dragged from his cabin, gagged, blindfolded and beaten, before being

bundled into a black station wagon and driven across the Drina.

Mr Todorovic, 41, has told his sister by phone from The Hague that

the snatch team stopped several times on the way to the border, probably

to change the vehicle’s registration plates. He was then smuggled across

in a dinghy, before being flown in an American helicopter to Tuzla in

the Muslim-Croat federation, and then to the Dutch capital. In Tuzla, he

claims a US officer told him: “So, you thought you were safe over there,

did you?”

Belgrade has consistently refused to co-operate with The Hague tribunal,

and last week denied a visa to Louise Arbour, its chief prosecutor,

who wanted to visit Kosovo.

Mr Todorovic’s relatives said they had helped to shelter him after

SAS units based in Republika Srpska began a crackdown on suspected

war criminals, killing one suspect and arresting another in Prijedor.

The fugitive’s cabin was decorated with Orthodox religious icons and

calendars of girls and sports cars. The cabin, at 3,000ft, is snowbound

for three months of the year. Relatives also said the masked men who

seized him spoke with accents from Belgrade and northern Serbia, and

claimed the cabin had been staked out for several days, during which

Mr Todorovic’s identity papers had been stolen from a car. “We loved him

and looked after him,” one said. “How can any of us feel safe here

after this?”

An elderly man who lives next to Mr Todorovic’s cabin said he had fought

in the Second World War with Fitzroy Maclean, the British agent who was

parachuted into Serbia to help Tito’s partisans. “How could former allies

do such a thing?” he asked.

The Western source said: “The guys are getting very good, and they’ve

got a list of options in Yugoslavia. Many of them now speak fluent Serbian

and they know the ground pretty well.”

Mr Todorovic, who worked in the northern Bosnian town of Bosanski Samac,

faces charges of murder, rape and torture.