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Thursday, 23 April, 1998, 18:08 GMT 19:08 UK
France denies officer scuppered Karadzic arrest
Bosnia troops
During the conflict French officers reportedly did not hide their sympathy for the Serbs
The French Defence Ministry has confirmed that one of its senior officers serving in Bosnia was brought home after establishing contacts with former Serb leaders - some of them wanted for war crimes.

The announcement followed a report in the Washington Post newspaper that NATO plans for the arrest of the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, a suspected war criminal, had to be scrapped because of fears he had been given prior warning.

Although the ministry acknowledged that meetings had taken place between the officer and Serb leaders, a statement rejected reports that the meetings had compromised plans to arrest Karadzic.

The BBC Paris correspondent Stephen Jessel says the statement did not name the officer, though he is identified in the US newspaper report.

Our correspondent also says the emergence of the story nine months after events may be a response by NATO to criticism over delays in detaining Mr Karadzic.

Contact with Karadzic

Radovan Karadzic
Radovan Karadzic: accused of war crimes
According to the newspaper report, the French officer was serving as a liaison officer with the Serbs in the Mostar region of Bosnia.

The paper said NATO officers feared that the contacts with Mr Karadzic would jeopardise plans to arrest him.

However, the defence ministry statement said that the officer's contacts with Serb leaders were permitted by his instructions.

It said that as soon as the relationships started to develop in a way that was open to question, the officer was immediately assigned to other duties in France.

The statement also denied allegations calling into question the conduct of French military personnel in Bosnia and said France was determined to see those guilty of war crimes put on trial.

France's Bosnian sympathies

France has played a major role in peace-keeping operations in Bosnia over the past six years, supplying one of the largest contingents of UN troops.

However, the role of the French has provoked controversy in the past.

During some of the worst mortar attacks on the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, reports were leaked to the media seeking to lay the blame on the mainly-Muslim Bosnian government forces. These leaks were usually traced back to the French UN contingent.

A BBC analyst says there are several reasons for France's undeclared sympathy for the Serbs - including a tradition of Franco-Serb friendship, anti-Muslim hostility in some sections of French society and a greater respect in the French army for the military professionalism of the Serb forces.

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