Russia offers asylum to Serb army chief - report

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LONDON - Russia has offered Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic asylum to protect him from prosecution for war crimes, Britain's Sunday Times reported.

In Moscow, no immediate comment was available from Russian authorities early on Sunday on the report.

"The offer includes an invitation to teach at an unspecified Russian military academy," said the Sunday Times, quoting unidentified senior Bosnian Serb sources.

"It was made last week during efforts to secure the release of two French airmen held by Bosnian Serbs under Mladic, who speaks Russian and received military training there.

"Mladic had tried to use the pilots to win concessions but released them on Tuesday after pressure from France and President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia."

The newspaper said Russia's military attache in Belgrade, General Viktor Chipilov, had made the offer to Mladic.

Mladic and Bosnian Serb "president" Radovan Karadzic face a U.N. war crimes trial in The Hague for alleged Serb atrocities during the 3 1/2 year Bosnian conflict. They should be removed from office under the peace deal signed in Paris last week.

The Sunday Times said Russia had asked for a freeze on war crime proceedings against Mladic and Karadzic but this had been rejected by the president of The Hague tribunal, Antonio Cassese.

"Friends of Mladic say he has no fear of being sent to The Hague so is unlikely to accept the (Russian) offer," said the newspaper.