Serbia seeks solution to row with US, official says

Other News Materials 6 August 2008 17:33 (UTC +04:00)

Serbia is seeking ways to end a diplomatic row with Washington over a Serb sought by the United States for allegedly beating a fellow student into a coma, media reports said Wednesday.

Serbia has refused to hand over Miladin Kovacevic, 21, for trial on first-degree felony assault charges in the near-fatal beating at Binghamton, a university town in New York state, dpa reported.

"The justice ministry is working on a solution which would be positive for the (Kovacevic) family, but which would satisfy the US demands," a ministry secretary, Slobodan Homen, told the daily Danas.

US authorities accuse Kovacevic and two co-defendants of severely beating Bryan Steinhauer, 22, in a May 4 bar brawl. Steinhauer remains hospitalized in a coma.

The US State Department on Tuesday declared Kovacevic a "fugitive in "over 180 countries" after he missed an August 1 deadline to turn himself in.

He fled the United States for Serbia on a temporary passport issued by the Serbian consulate three days after the incident, skipping 100,000 dollars' bail reportedly posted by the consulate.

New York senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer have threatened to cut off US aid to Serbia unless Belgrade arrests Kovacevic and extradites him to the United States.

Homen said that "owing to the delicate nature" of the Kovacevic case, Serbian officials would not comment further.

Serbia's constitution forbids extraditing its citizens for trial, except to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

The diplomatic row followed the cooling of relations over the US support of Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia in February and a mob attack on the American embassy in Belgrade.