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Serbia pursues Ejup Ganic for war crimes. Or is it a vendetta?

Serbia has asked Britain to extradite Ejup Ganic, a Bosnian leader who was briefly in charge of the country and its military forces. Serbia charges him of war crimes, claiming that he ordered Bosnian forces to kill wounded Serb-led troops in 1992. The Hague says otherwise.

By Roy GutmanMcClatchy Newspapers / April 12, 2010

Ejup Ganic is driven away from Wandsworth Prison in London after a British court granted bail Thursday March 11. The 64- year-old was arrested on March 1 at London's Heathrow airport on a Serbian warrant in connection with an attack on retreating soldiers in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo in 1992.

Alastair Grant/AP

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Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Eighteen years after the start of the devastating war here, Serbia – widely viewed as responsible for provoking the break-up of multi-ethnic Yugoslavia – has asked Britain to extradite a Bosnian leader who was briefly in charge of the country and its military forces.

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Serbia made the charge against Ejup Ganic, Bosnia's wartime vice-president, in late February, claiming that he ordered Bosnian forces to shoot and kill wounded Serb-led federal troops departing the Bosnia capital by armed convoy in May 1992.

The war crimes case comes to a head Tuesday when British authorities decide whether to free Ganic, 64, or send him to face trial in Serbia.

Ganic's lawyers and the Bosnian government say that Serbia, a pariah state that has sheltered indicted war criminals since the war ended in 1995, has submitted a politically motivated extradition request whose defects include a flawed explanation of Balkan geography.

The British arrest warrant said Ganic is accused of conspiracy to murder by Serbia, "the conduct of which occurred in that territory." In actual fact, the alleged offense occurred in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina. According to Damir Arnaut, a Bosnian government legal counsel, the extradition treaty under which the request was made specifies that a murder occur on the territory of the state requesting extradition

The U.N.'s International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia investigated the second charge, that Ganic killed or organized the killing of wounded soldiers, and said it had found no evidence whatsoever.

The isn't the first time Serbia has sought to press charges against Bosnian leaders where the cited facts are shaky at best.

The tribunal investigated similar allegations against Ganic, who at the time was vice president of Bosnia, for nearly a year and dismissed the case in June 2003 for insufficient evidence.

Last July, Interpol, the police clearing house, rejected a Serb request for an international warrant against Ganic.

Arrested in Britain

Ganic now heads the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology and was in Britain to receive an honorary degree from the University of Buckingham.

British authorities arrested him on March 1 as he was about to board a plane at Heathrow Airport and detained him in Wandsworth Prison. It took 10 days before the British High Court agreed to release him to effective house arrest on $460,000 bail.

The case has caused enormous strain between this fragile mostly Muslim country, and Britain, which during the three-year war blocked arms for Bosnia's self-defense and favored its partition.

Although Washington led the NATO intervention that ended the war in 1995, served as Bosnia's principal outside protector ever since and for years has worked closely with the MIT-educated Ganic, the Obama administration won't comment on the merits of the case and, according to top Bosnian officials, has not indicated any interest in private as well.

Serbian vendetta?

The Ganic case illustrates how many things remain unresolved 15 years after the end of the war and the tensions that run just below the surface and casts a harsh spotlight on Serbia, which on March 31 apologized for the mass killing of captured Muslims at Srebrenica, but still seems determined to pursue unilateral justice against the Bosnian government.

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