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Monday, 4 March, 2002, 13:36 GMT
Karadzic 'saved by French leak'
Radovan Karadzic
Karadzic slipped away with French help, reports claim
An investigation has been launched into claims that a French army officer deliberately wrecked last week's Nato attempt to capture Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic.


This is a pretty large allegation - right now we are investigating the reports

S-For spokeswoman Angela Johnson.

The unnamed army captain is said to have telephoned a Bosnian Serb policeman to tip him off that a Nato operation was about to begin in the town of Foca, say reports in UK and German newspapers.

"A French officer revealed the (imminent) operation," a US diplomat, Shaun Byrnes, is quoted as saying by a German newspaper.

However, a US embassy spokesman in Belgrade said Mr Byrnes had not talked about the affair to anyone.

France heads Nato's multi-national force in south-eastern Bosnia, where Foca is located.

A spokeswoman for Nato's force in Bosnia, S-For, confirmed that a "very thorough" investigation was being conducted into the claims.

Transcripts

"This is a pretty large allegation," spokeswoman Captain Angela Johnson told BBC News Online.

Map of Bosnia, Foca and Celebici
"Right now we are investigating the reports. We have no information at the moment that suggests it is true. However, appropriate action would be taken if it was found to be true."

The French have been seen as allies of the Serbs since World War I. Last December a French army major was jailed for spying for Belgrade ahead of the Kosovo conflict.

The Hamburg newspaper Abendblatt, which reported Mr Byrnes's alleged statement, also published what it said were transcripts of the French captain's conversation with the Bosnian Serb policeman.

Similar reports also appear in the UK's Times and Daily Mail newspapers.

According to the Times, the conversation was monitored by British intelligence.

Border 'sealed'

The UK Ministry of Defence refused to comment on the reports.

The Nato operation around Foca continued throughout Thursday and Friday, and the border with Montenegro was reportedly sealed over the weekend.


You should pay attention to Foca

French officer's alleged tip-off
Mr Karadzic is one of the international war crimes tribunal's most wanted suspects.

But S-For said the big manhunt was not continuing on Monday, and "normal" operations had been resumed.

According to the Times newspaper's account of the alleged conversation, the French officer rings a Bosnian policeman who is clearly known to him.

The Bosnian policeman is said to sound surprised and indignant at being called early in the morning, and asks: "What do you want? Why are you calling me?"

The captain, described as a member of S-For, says: "You should pay attention to Foca."

French alliance

The conversation reportedly took place early on Thursday, as US helicopters were leaving their base in northern Bosnia, giving Mr Karadzic just enough time to get away.

Allegations that French diplomats and military sources have helped the Serbs have been made on several occasions.

The most serious claim resulted last December in the conviction for treason of a French major, Pierre-Henri Bunel, who was found guilty of tipping off the Serbs about Nato military plans before the Kosovo conflict.

He had denied treason, insisting that he had been acting under the orders of French intelligence services.

In 1998, a French S-For spokesman was removed from his duties after it was found that he had leaked details of two earlier operations to arrest Mr Karadzic.

And in 1997, a senior war crimes tribunal prosecutor said suspects in the French sector felt they were living "in absolute security".

See also:

12 Dec 01 | Europe
French major jailed as Serb spy
28 Feb 02 | Europe
Nato's Karadzic hunt draws blank
28 Feb 02 | Europe
The race to catch Karadzic
01 Mar 02 | Europe
Where are Karadzic and Mladic?
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