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Monday, 4 March, 2002, 18:52 GMT
No proof of French tip-off, says Nato
Radovan Karadzic
Karadzic slipped away with French help, reports claim
Nato chief George Robertson has said there is no evidence to back claims that a French officer scuppered last week's attempts to capture Radovan Karadzic.

Newspaper reports in the UK and Germany said that a French captain had telephoned a Bosnian Serb policeman, tipping him off that a Nato operation to capture Mr Karadzic was getting under way.

Allegations in today's press about a leak to the Bosnian Serb authorities regarding the raid on Celebici are pure speculation

Lord Robertson
Nato head
Mr Karadzic, the wartime leader of the Bosnian Serbs, is reported to have fled the area in the nick of time.

He is one of the international war crimes tribunal's most wanted suspects, and at least one previous attempt to catch him failed after a French leak.

But Lord Robertson insisted there was no proof that the French were implicated in the failure of last week's mission in the south-east of the country.

"Allegations in today's press about a leak to the Bosnian Serb authorities regarding the raid on Celebici on the morning of 28 February are pure speculation," he said in a statement.

All attempts to cast doubt on France's readiness and determination are unacceptable and outrageous

French Foreign Ministry spokesman
"There is no evidence known to us to substantiate them."

France, which heads Nato's multi-national force in south-eastern Bosnia, has traditionally been seen as a supporter of the Serbs.

But France hit back on Monday at the suggestion that it was not fully behind the quest to catch Mr Karadzic.

"All attempts to cast doubt on France's readiness and determination are unacceptable and outrageous," said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Francois Rivasseau.

Map of Bosnia, Foca and Celebici
According to the media reports, the unnamed French captain telephoned a Bosnian Serb policeman early on Thursday morning, as US helicopters were taking off from northern Bosnia to stage the raid.

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

However, a US embassy spokesman in Belgrade told BBC News Online that Mr Byrnes had not talked about the affair to anyone.

'British intelligence'

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

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

"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 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.

Woman shows damaged home
Nato forces raided properties looking for Karadzic
Similar reports also appeared in the UK's Times newspaper.

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

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

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

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

French alliance

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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