International High Representative Paddy Ashdown on Thursday sacked six Bosnian Serb police and three officials accused of abetting fugitives from the UN war crimes court at The Hague.

  

"I have no other option but to act, as every week new evidence of obstruction comes to light," Paddy Ashdown said in Sarajevo.

   

Ashdown has sweeping powers to remove politicians and officials seen as obstructing Bosnia's 1995 Dayton peace treaty, which split the country into Muslim-Croat and Serb halves.

   

He fired 60 Serb officials in June for not arresting wartime Bosnian Serb leader and genocide suspect Radovan Karadzic.

 

Evidence

   

Ashdown, a former British politician, said there was evidence from "reliable sources" that Karadzic's former military commander Ratko Mladic had been hidden by the Bosnian Serb army in the Han Pijesak military compound, his wartime stronghold, as recently as last summer.

 

Ratko Mladic was allegedly being
 protected by Bosnian Serb army

European military forces said they would close down the complex.

   

The fact the Serb Republic authorities have not arrested a single war-crimes fugitive in nine years is a "cold, hard fact which puts the government ... in fundamental breach of Dayton", Ashdown said.

   

"For nine full years the Republika Srpska authorities have claimed they were hunting Mladic when in fact for those nine years they were actually employing him," he said, referring to recent evidence that The Hague indictee was on the Serb Republic's army payroll until 2002.

 

Protection

    

There was evidence that some in the Bosnian Serb army and police were protecting war-crimes fugitives also in October when police failed to find indicted war crimes suspect Gojko Jankovic during a raid in the eastern town of Foca, Ashdown said.

   

"Each of these represent shocking examples of the Republika Srpska's institutional complicity in the evasion of justice of ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia) fugitives," he said.

   

"I have no other
option but to act, as every week new evidence of obstruction comes to light"

Paddy Ashdown,
International High Representative

Ashdown said he was forced to take the measures after NATO refused to admit Bosnia into its Partnership for Peace (PFP) programme last week for the second time, citing their failure to bring in Karadzic and other fugitives.

   

He gave Bosnian Serbs an April deadline to fulfill their obligations to The Hague.

   

"If because of Republika Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina fails for a third time (to join NATO's PFP in April), I will not hesitate to take measures that deal directly and powerfully with the assets and the institutions of the Republika Srpska," Ashdown said.

    

Meanwhile, US ambassador Douglas McElhaney on Thursday said Washington had frozen the assets of the Serb Democratic Party, founded by Karadzic, and banned its leaders and those of its coalition partner, the Party of Democratic Progress, from entering the United States.