Balkan War Criminals May Face Arresting Force

A new US proposal to create a special police force to arrest indicted war criminals at large in the former Yugoslavia could be welcome news for the Bosnian peace process.

The continued liberty of war criminals has seriously damaged the integrity of the Bosnian peace process, analysts say. Observers here have long argued there can be no lasting peace in Bosnia without justice. At a minimum, they say, those responsible for ethnic cleansing, massacres of civilians, and running organized torture camps must stand trial for their actions.

Sources in Sarajevo say the proposal remains just an idea, with key issues yet to be discussed. And while the consensus is that such a force is needed, there is likely to be disagreement over details. Sticking points could include: Who would man the force; whether it would be an elite commando unit or a group of unarmed civilian police; and what kind of support the 30,000 NATO-led peacekeepers would give this force should it get into trouble.

To date, only seven of 80 people indicted by the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague have been handed over by local leaders in accordance with the 1995 Dayton peace accords. The NATO-led peace implementation force has thus far refused to apprehend those at large for fear of suffering casualties and, therefore, possibly losing public support for the mission at home.

US Defense Secretary William Perry met with his Danish, Dutch, French, and Norwegian counterparts last week and obtained broad agreement that a special police force should be established to apprehend those still at large. It has yet to be decided who would man and operate the force, which would relieve NATO's Stabilization Force (SFOR) from responsibility.

"We have special forces trained to apprehend or take out people, but they do not have the appropriate training to carry out arrests for a court of justice," an SFOR official says. "We don't expect that our procedures regarding war criminals will change."

The UN war crimes tribunal supports the proposed force. "We have made it clear that arresting war criminals is our top priority and any move that pushes the parties towards compliance in turning over those indicted is a positive development," says UN spokesman Alex Ivanko. "If the parties are unwilling to comply then we welcome the transfer of authority to others to do the job."

THE apprehension of war criminals could improve relations between the international community and the Muslim-led Bosnian government. It would also likely lead to the implication of many of the past and present Bosnian Serb leaders, thus weakening the control of extreme nationalists opposed to integration with the rest of Bosnia.

But it won't be any easy task, as many indictees are well-armed and would probably not go without a fight. The most-wanted indictees, such as former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his former military chief Ratko Mladic, are surrounded by well-armed bodyguards. Since being fired from his post this fall, Mladic has reportedly been living in a bunker. Earlier this month, UN observers spotted Karadzic traveling with an official Bosnian Serb police escort.

For this reason, many observers believe the task requires the use of elite military forces with the full backing of NATO intelligence and logistics. The next UN secretary-general, former UN peacekeeping chief Kofi Annan said last week he opposes the use of the UN's unarmed civilian police task force for the job.

Another option is to create a special force under the mantle of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which organized general elections for Bosnia in September. "At this point it's no more than an idea," says Duncan Bullivant, a spokesman for Carl Bildt, the international community's senior civilian administrator in Bosnia. "It could turn out to be a 'storm in a teacup.' "

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.