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Former Samac mayor, Blagoje Simic
"I am convinced in my innocence"
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Simic's lawyer, Igor Pantellic
"Those who surrender voluntarily have the right to defend themselves"
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The BBC's Paul Anderson
"Many war crimes suspects remain at large"
 real 56k

Monday, 12 March, 2001, 10:48 GMT
Serb surrenders to Hague tribunal
Blagoje Simic (left) and his lawyer Igor Pantelic at Belgrade airport
Simic (left) and his lawyer face the press in Belgrade
A former Bosnian Serb mayor wanted by the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague has given himself up to the court.

Blagoje Simic was indicted by the tribunal in 1995 for crimes committed while he was mayor of the Bosnian town of Samac.


I will prove my innocence before the international community

Blagoje Simic
It is claimed that, along with others, he planned and carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing after the fall of Samac to Bosnian Serb forces in 1992.

More than 15,000 Muslims and Croats were forced out of Samac between 1992 and 1995, many of them herded into notoriously savage Bosnian Serb prison camps.

Mr Simic is also answerable for the acts of murder and torture alleged to have been carried out by his police chief.

'Gesture of goodwill'

Mr Simic's lawyer said his client was surrendering as a gesture of goodwill and to clear the name of the Serbian people.

Speaking at Belgrade airport, Mr Simic said: "This act is absolutely voluntary.

"I am innocent and I will prove my innocence before the international community and the Hague Tribunal."

He said he wanted to "remove the guilt from my own name and the name of my family, and reduce the pressure on Serbia, Yugoslavia (and) the Serbian people."

International pressure

The Yugoslav Government is under heavy international pressure to start co-operating with the tribunal.

During a recent visit to Belgrade, the Tribunal's Chief Prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, told the Yugoslav authorities that she expected to see improved co-operation.

The United States has also threatened to withhold economic aid to Yugoslavia.

But there has so far been no sign that the authorities are ready to hand over the former Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic.

The former Bosnian Serb president, Radovan Karadzic, and his military chief, Ratko Mladic, both indicted by the Tribunal, also remain at large.

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