War Crimes Probe Targets Yugoslav Minister

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- In the first such move against a top official in Yugoslavia, Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic is to be investigated for alleged involvement in war crimes in the early days of the Bosnian war.


The state prosecutor of Montenegro, Serbia's tiny partner in the Yugoslav federation, announced Monday that he was investigating the arrest and deportation of Moslems in Montenegro at the start of the war in 1992.


The UN war crimes tribunal in the Hague requested the investigation, state prosecutor Vladimir Susovic said in Podgorica, the Montenegrin capital. At the tribunal Tuesday, officials said they had no comment.


When war broke out in Bosnia in 1992, some Moslems from Bosnia fled to neighboring Montenegro seeking refuge. There were persistent reports at the time that they and Moslems living in Montenegro were rounded up and arrested.


Many of those arrested were then reportedly deported to Serb-held parts of Bosnia, where they were either killed or exchanged for Serb prisoners of war.


At the time, in 1992, Bulatovic was interior minister in Montenegro.


Repeated attempts to reach Bulatovic for comment failed. His office said he was not available and declined to specify when he could be reached.


Susovic cited allegations that two groups of Moslem civilians were detained and taken to Bosnian Serb forces loyal to the then-leader, Radovan Karadzic -- now the No. 1 war crimes suspect indicted by the Hague tribunal.


The first Moslems allegedly were deported in April 6, 1992, the day Bosnia-Herzegovina won European Union recognition of its independence, and the war in Bosnia began in earnest. Another group allegedly was sent to Bosnia a few days later.


Susovic did not say how many Moslems were involved. A human rights activist in Podgorica said on condition of anonymity that a total of 100 Bosnian Moslems and also Serbs who had fled the war were arrested when they tried to hide in Montenegro.


Some Serbs from that group were later killed by Karadzic's forces, while the Moslems mainly were used in prisoner exchanges, the activist added.


When Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic learned of the arrests and deportations in June 1992, he stopped them, the activist said.


At the time, the affair was hushed up. Bulatovic was shifted to Belgrade, becoming federal defense minister, a position he still holds.