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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.

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Legal experts say if Serbia had a case or could claim new evidence, it should have gone to The Hague tribunal, which the U.N. Security Council has given jurisdiction over war crimes committed during the break-up of Yugoslavia.

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Tribunal staff memos obtained by McClatchy blamed the departing Serbian military commander for violating a U.N.-brokered agreement that would have freed the commander from a siege by Bosnian troops in exchange for the Bosnian president, whom Serb forces had taken hostage the previous day. The memos said the assault by Bosnian forces on the departing army convoy was not only not a crime but in fact a lawful use of force.

The clash between Bosnian and Serb-led Yugoslav forces occurred on May 3, 1992, one day after Yugoslav army forces, on the orders of Gen. Milutin Kakanjac, had kidnapped Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic and his daughter as they flew into Sarajevo airport.

With Izetbegovic held hostage, Ganic took charge and agreed to give safe passage to Kukanjac, who was under siege from government forces, in exchange for Izetbegovic. Kukanjac's own forces stopped him from leaving, fearing he'd abandon them, and Kukanjac then demanded that 400 troops be allowed to join him, tribunal investigators found.

Izetbegovic personally assured Kakanjac his troops would be safe, but Ganic apparently was unaware of the commitment.

What the Hague says

Hague investigators concluded that the attack by Bosnian government forces on a part of the Kukanjac convoy was a lawful attack on a legitimate military target. They were unable to determine how many Serb troops were killed but said there was no evidence that Bosnian forces had shot any Serbs who were already wounded.

Although the initial Hague investigation was in response to a request by the Republika Srpska, a mainly Serb entity within the Bosnian state, the evidence originated from Serbia proper, Tribunal staff said in internal memos. But other than possible mistreatment of detainees, the investigation found no grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions by the Bosnian government side.

Serbia, meanwhile, has arrested and tried a Bosnian from Tuzla named Ilija Djurisic and sentenced him last September to 12 years in prison for alleged involvement in an attack on a Yugoslav army convoy from the northeast Bosnian city in May 2002. Critics say the two cases are connected.

"Serbia is trying to rewrite the history of the war and to blame the Bosnians for starting it," said Sonja Biserko, the head of the Belgrade chapter of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia.

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