Serbia charges 19 Bosnian officials with war crimes

A Belgrade court has issued arrest warrants for 19 former Bosnian officials over a 1992 attack on troops of the former Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA), a spokeswoman said on Thursday.

A war crimes investigative judge charged the 19 with war crimes and illegal conduct of fighting in the attack on the retreating army column in Sarajevo, said Ivana Ramic, a spokeswoman for Belgrade’s District Court.

In April 1992, after multi-ethnic Bosnia declared independence from former Socialist Yugoslavia, Bosnian Serb forces attacked Sarajevo. Some JNA troops remained stationed in the city and became a focus of bargaining between the two sides.

A deal between the Yugoslav military, Bosnian authorities and the U.N. peacekeeping mission granted the JNA units safe passage to the Serb-controlled suburb of Lukavica.

On May 2, the convoy of retreating troops led by UN peacekeepers was cut in two and attacked by the Bosnian army in Sarajevo’s Dobrovoljacka street, Ramic said.

As many as 42 Yugoslav soldiers and officers were killed. Another 73 were wounded while 215 were taken prisoner, she said.

That day, Bosnian presidency chairman Alija Izetbegovic was taken by Bosnian Serb forces and held for hours at Sarajevo airport.

Backed by JNA troops, Bosnian Serb forces went on to maintain a 43-month siege of Sarajevo that claimed 14,000 lives.

Ramic said former member of Bosnian wartime presidency Ejup Ganic was among those sought. Of the other suspects she said only “they were in the chain of command back then”.

Ganic dismissed the allegations, indicating the attack on the JNA column had been aimed at rescuing Izetbegovic after his “kidnapping” by the Bosnian Serb forces.

“For Serbia, anyone who defended our country (Bosnia) needs to be arrested,” Ganic, who still lives in Sarajevo, told the Dnevni Avaz daily, adding that “Serbia has been launching such stories for years”.

A Croat member of Bosnia’s three-man inter-ethnic presidency, Zeljko Komsic, said in a statement Serbia was not authorised to bring charges for war crimes committed in Bosnia and had proved “once again its involvement in the Bosnian war”.

The U.S.-brokered Dayton peace accord ended Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, dividing the country into two autonomous regions, the Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat federation.

EXTRADITION UNLIKELY

Serbia and Bosnia have no bilateral extradition treaty but the European Convention on Extradition can be applied, Serbian lawyer and former military prosecutor Djordje Trifunovic said.

In a statement Serbia’s Interior Ministry said the arrest warrants “are for Serbia only”.

“Should we decide, warrants can be made international,” a Justice Department official said on condition of anonymity.

Komsic, who once served as Bosnia’s ambassador in Belgrade, said he would ask the central cabinet and Bosnian officials in Interpol to take measures to protect Bosnian citizens from possible arrest abroad and extradition to Serbia.

In 2006, Serbia arrested Bosnian Croat Ilija Jurisic while he was on a business trip to Belgrade and indicted him for alleged war crimes against JNA troops in the northern Bosnian town of Tuzla in 1992.

Bosnia is unlikely to hand anyone over until reciprocity is agreed with Serbia and Croatia, which have failed to hand over Bosnian Serb and Croat war crimes suspects now regarded as Serbian and Croatian citizens.

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February 25, 2009. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized.

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