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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK
Yugoslav army chief surrenders to Hague
General Ojdanic waves goodbye at Belgrade airport
Ojdanic is the first on a list of 23 suspects to surrender
The man who headed the Yugoslav army under President Slobodan Milosevic has arrived in The Hague to face charges at the war crimes tribunal.

General Dragoljub Ojdanic, who is accused of war crimes in Kosovo, is the first of 23 people ordered to surrender last week by the Yugoslav Government to give himself up.

As a chief of staff, I have nothing to feel ashamed of and my conscience is clean

General Ojdanic
He commanded the Yugoslav armed forces in the 1998 and 1999 military campaign in Kosovo in which thousands of people were killed and hundreds of thousands driven from their homes.

He has publicly denied that troops under his command committed atrocities. He said he felt "like any other hero," as he boarded the flight to Belgrade accompanied by his wife and lawyer.

General Ojdanic was indicted along with former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who was extradited against his will last June.

Voluntary surrender

General Ojdanic joins 40 other suspects held at the special UN unit in Scheveningen, near the tribunal. His wife wept as he was taken into custody and driven away in an unmarked van.

He told journalists at Belgrade airport he hoped for the best because he had done nothing wrong.

General Ojdanic
Ojdanic decided to surrender after a new law allowing extraditions was passed
He said there must always be someone who would defend the people and said he wanted to "defend the honour of the Yugoslav army".

"As a chief of staff, I have nothing to feel ashamed of and my conscience is clean," said General Ojdanic who served four decades in the army.

He said it was out of respect for the law that he was now prepared to surrender to The Hague to face charges.

He may appear in court as soon as Friday.

He said he hoped he might be released pending trial, as other suspects who have surrendered voluntarily have been.

Accused with Milosevic

The government demanded the surrender of 23 suspects, after parliament passed a law agreeing to hand over those already named in indictments by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Dragoljub Ojdanic, former army chief of staff
Nikola Sainovic, former Yugoslav deputy prime minister
Milan Martic, former Croatian Serb rebel leader
Mile Mrksic, former army officer
Vladimir Kovacevic, former army officer
Momcilo Gruban, former Bosnian Serb prison guard
Six of the 23 people named have said they will surrender voluntarily, including former Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, who, like General Ojdanic, is indicted on the same charge sheet as Mr Milosevic.

Vlajko Stojiljkovic, the interior minister under Mr Milosevic who is also named in the indictment, shot himself in the head after the law was passed and died several days later.

The fifth person named in the indictment, Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, has political immunity from prosecution until his mandate runs out at the end of the year.

They are accused of having "planned, instigated, ordered, committed or otherwise aided and abetted in a campaign of terror and violence directed at Kosovo Albanian civilians living in Kosovo".

Karadzic 'regrets'

But two of the most wanted men on the government list - Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief Ratko Mladic - have not given themselves up.

Mr Karadzic sent a caustic letter to a Serbian law professor expressing his "regrets" for being "unable to turn myself in to the tribunal."

"Not only is this tribunal illegally established, but it is also a source of shame for a decent part of the West, which now backs it," he wrote in the letter, published in a Yugoslav weekly.

The government on Wednesday issued indictments and arrest warrants for the remaining 17 suspects who have not yet come forward.

The suspects are accused of taking part in war campaigns spearheaded by Slobodan Milosevic, who is now on trial at The Hague for war crimes, including genocide, in Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia.

Yugoslavia hopes compliance with the war crimes tribunal will end a freeze on economic aid imposed by the US and open up access to international loans.

The BBC's Matt Prodger
"He is one of five charged with war crimes in Kosovo"
See also:

15 Apr 02 | Europe
Profile: Dragoljub Ojdanic
18 Apr 02 | Europe
Belgrade's shot in the dark
14 Apr 02 | Europe
Top Serb suspect dies
13 Apr 02 | Europe
Hague suspects go to ground
01 Mar 02 | Europe
The race to catch Karadzic
12 Mar 02 | Europe
The Hague looms over the Balkans
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