In Bosnia, a wider war-crimes net
The Hague tribunal reportedly plans to arrest Bosnia's former president, long considered a victim of Serb aggression..
SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA — The Hague's war crimes tribunal is casting a wider and wider net.
It has already convicted dozens of suspects for crimes committed during the Balkan wars of the past decade, mainly Serbs. And it's made global headlines by indicting former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and sentencing Bosnian Serb Gen. Radislav Krstic to 46 years for genocide against Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica.
But what's garnering more attention here in Sarajevo is the arrest of two Bosnian Muslim generals and a colonel. Now, the war crimes tribunal may soon indict former Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic.
Though the timing may be coincidental, the fact that the arrests took place the same day as Krstic's sentencing, has been interpreted here as a sign that the tribunal will treat equally all sides that participated in the Yugoslav wars.
The arrests also sparked panic among the former Bosnian political and military leadership. For many years, Mr. Izetbegovic's stubbornness and profound indecision in the face of plans to ethnically divide Bosnia stood as a symbol for the tragic fate of his people.
Now many Bosnian Muslims are wondering what message the international community is trying to send, since the two most-wanted war criminals, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, are still on the loose in NATO-controlled Republika Srpska.
"There's an attempt in some international circles to say, yes there was an aggression on Bosnia, on CNN we saw a little country being attacked on all sides," says Ejub Ganic, the former vice president of Bosnia and member of Izetbegovic's party. "But now that these American journalists are gone, why don't we create a theory of civil war so we can prosecute everybody."
It would be like calling Roosevelt and Churchill to account for the bombing of civilians and hospitals in German cities, Mr. Ganic adds.
Jean-Jacques Joris, The Hague prosecutor's diplomatic adviser, counters that such an interpretation as Ganic's stems from a misunderstanding.
"You can have a legitimate military operation for defense in the course of which crimes will be committed. The three Bosniak generals were indicted for crimes the officers did not prevent or when they became aware of them did not prosecute," says Mr. Joris.
Izetbegovic's response to the arrest of his loyal party men was characteristically fatalistic and proud. "I am ready to share the fate of my generals," he said on the cover of Bosnia's main weekly magazine, Dani. Juxtaposed on the same cover were the words: "The army of BiH was in the hands of one man," spoken by Stepan Kljuic a Croation member of the wartime Bosnian presidency. Mr. Kljuic's point is that few except Izetbegovic's most trusted inner circle were informed of what was going on.
But Jovan Divijak, who was well-known during the war as the only Serb general who chose to fight with the Bosnian Army in the hopes of preserving a multiethnic Bosnia, argues that Kljuic and others should have made it their business to know.
In May of 1993, Mr. Divijak wrote a letter to Izetbegovic explaining that certain rogue commanders - most famous among them were two criminals nicknamed Caco and Celo - were responsible for crimes committed against Serbs, Croats, and certain Bosniaks in Sarajevo. Izetbegovic asked his high command to investigate the charges.
"In his book, Izetbegovic writes that the majority said [I} was right," says Divijak. "So why didn't he react? It would have been better to have tried them here, at that time, than at The Hague."
Many, including Divjiak, assert that Izetbegovic was informed about everything that went on, including the crimes committed by the purely Muslim religious brigades (including foreign Mujahideen) whom he openly favored and honored. The three Bosnian Muslim officers are in fact being indicted for failing to stop or punish the killings of war prisoners and civilians in central Bosnia perpetrated largely by these brigades.
"Izetbegovic knew about the problems in central Bosnia, but he accepted that they were acts of revenge," adds Divijak.
Whether or not The Hague's investigation of Izetbegovic, which sources say has been under way for two years, is politically motivated or will lead to an arrest, it has heightened the stakes of an internal debate among Bosnian journalists, intellectuals, and political leaders about just how democratic and multiethnic the goals of Izetbegovic were once the war was under way.
Slobodna Bosna, another leading Bosnian magazine, wrote with a somewhat sensational flourish that The Hague has rushed to translate the text of Izetbegovic's Islamic Declaration. They went on to say that, though Izetbegovic said his book was only concerned with modern Islam and not Bosnia, it is interesting that during the war more than 10,000 copies were published and distributed to military and police structures.
Vildana Selimbegovic was recently made the editor in chief of Dani, which has been sued, bombed, and virulently attacked after publishing articles not only about crimes committed by the Bosnian Army, but about the parallel structure in the Bosnian leadership, which consisted of Izetbegovic's old circle of "Young Muslim" dissidents imprisoned during Tito's days.
Many, like Ms. Selimbegovic, claim that by 1993 Izetbegovic and his clique were only interested in carving out a little Muslim state, and to do that they not only accepted, but encouraged, the presence of the foreign Mujahideen who filmed decapitations of Serbian soldiers. At the time, Selimbegovic wanted to see if they really existed, and could only enter their base disguised as a mute man.
These days, when Bosnians ask why she is writing such articles against the army, she replies, "I know my husband and his friends died fighting to defend Sarajevo and other territories, and I want to take the mask off all those who committed crimes in the name of the army."
It's in that spirit, in fact, that the Bosnian government, in the opinion of outgoing US Ambassador Thomas Miller, followed the rules of the tribunal, and arrested the three Bosnian Army officers, in stark contrast to the Serbian entity, which continues to shelter their indicted war criminals. "They said, 'Give us a chance, don't just send in [NATO] troops like we don't exist. And they did it right," adds Ambassador Miller.