Accused of War Crimes, Many Serbs Walk Free
Sisters, wives of indicted cover up men's whereabouts
Zheljko Kos stands at the bar of the only restaurant in the Bosnian Serb village of Omarska, which he owns, studying a posted list of those indicted by the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague. Mr. Kos, dressed in a designer sweat suit, has reason to read. His brother, Milojica Kos, is one of the 74 names on the list.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Across the street is the now-abandoned site of the Omarska concentration camp, where Milojica's crimes allegedly occurred. He is indicted for being a shift commander at the camp, where up to 3,000 Muslims are believed to have been detained, tortured, and many murdered.
Many Serb men from this area of northwestern Bosnia were apparently involved in the camp's operation - and another like it at Keraterm. Many have been indicted.
But until now, neither local authorities nor NATO-led peacekeeping troops have been willing to arrest them, so they have lived relatively free. But that could be changing.
Increasingly, the indicted men's lives of impunity are seen as impediments to peace in Bosnia. As long as they go unpunished, the rationale goes, simmering resentment will remain and violent retribution could occur.
"The whole peace process rests on this issue," said Robert Frowick, the retired US diplomat who heads the Bosnia mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, one group responsible for overseeing the capture of those indicted. "There will not be a better moment than right now" to apprehend the indicted men, he said recently.
So far, only the rhetoric against the criminals has ratcheted up - no action appears imminent. Still, many residents are nervous. "Can I make a copy in the fax machine?" Kos asks, referring to the poster, around which men have gathered to search for the names they know.
Prijedor, a city of 135,000 Serbs a few miles west of Omarska, has 20 indicted war criminals, more than any other city in Bosnia.
A town haunted by crimes
Prijedor is so haunted by the war crimes of which its native sons are accused that at times it seems as if the city itself is indicted by the Tribunal. The name of the city in Bosnia is instantly associated with the two nearby concentration camps.
Only one of the indictees from this area, Dusan Tadic, is on trial at The Hague. A three-judge panel is expected to rule in the case early next year. Mr. Tadic faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
The rest of the 20 indicted war criminals are still in Prijedor, or have gone underground.
The families of indicted war criminals in Prijedor are uncomfortable when an international visitor drives through town. Many feel it is just a matter of time before their son, husband, or father is arrested and sent to The Hague for trial. They insist that crimes were committed by all three sides during Bosnia's 3-1/2 year war and it is not fair that their family member is specially stigmatized by indictment.
A year into the peace, 67 of Bosnia's 74 indicted war criminals are still free. Western governments have been reluctant to risk violent confrontation that could come in the attempt to arrest the indicted men.
In spite of the fact that no one has been searching for Bosnia's war criminals, the families of the indicted feel persecuted.
"We are scared the war will never end for us," says Jasna Kvocka, the wife of Miroslav Kvocka, an indicted man who was the Prijedor police duty officer as recently as Oct. 23. "We just want to raise our two daughters. That's it. Leave us alone."
Mrs. Kvocka is one of the few hundred Muslims left in Prijedor - and untypically she is married to a Serb. Before the war, there were 40,000 Muslims and 40,000 Serbs. Most of Prijedor's former Muslims now live in the nearby city of Sanski Most, which is out of Bosnian Serb control.