April 6, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Yugoslav government considers the three U.S. Army soldiers captured near the Yugoslav-Macedonia border last week to be prisoners of war and will release them "at the end of the hostilities," the Pentagon said.
Belgrade also has assured the soldiers will not be tried and will be treated under international laws outlined in the Geneva Conventions.
"The encouraging thing is that, after a couple of days, the Yugoslav government has announced that they will be treated as POWs," Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said Monday.
"They will be released at the end of the hostilities and that they will not be tried," he said.
Meanwhile, the Serbian paramilitary leader known as Arkan on Monday promised he would do everything he could to secure the release of the three captured soldiers.
Arkan, who has been indicted for war crimes by the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, told CNN affiliate WJLA-TV in Washington that the three soldiers were being "well-treated."
"I know it worries you and ... lots of people in Yugoslavia want to see them free. We want to show our goodwill to the world."
The soldiers -- Staff Sgt. Andrew Ramirez, 24, of Los Angeles; Staff Sgt. Christopher Stone, 25, of Smiths Creek, Michigan; and Spec. Steven Gonzales, 21, of Huntsville, Texas -- were taken into custody last Wednesday as they patrolled the border between Macedonia and Kosovo.
The three have been seen only on Serbian television, in pictures that showed them grim-faced and bruised.
"I will give everything I can and all my influence I can to see those three brave American soldiers free," said Arkan.
Arkan, whose real name is Zeljko Raznjatovic, said none of his Tiger paramilitary troops were active in Kosovo, but he vowed to order them to the southern Serbian province if NATO deployed ground troops there.
"My identity and the identity of all the Serbs starts in Kosovo. We can't let Kosovo just like that go away. No one Serb will leave Kosovo. We will fight until the last man for Kosovo.
"We are defending our freedom. We are defending our land. We are defending our children and our lives."
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