New impetus to capture Serb war criminals

Sixty Bosnian Serb officials were dismissed Wednesday for failing to arrest indicted war criminals still at large.

The scene had all the markings of a car accident. Four police directed traffic while onlookers peered over the rusty guardrails of a two-lane road that winds near Bratunac. But the half-dozen men at the bottom of this ravine in eastern Bosnia were looking for victims of a much more serious event. Diggers worked the ravine bottom with pickaxes and spades until a shoe emerged - then a mud-stained shin bone. Forty minutes later, they had uncovered four huddled bodies.

In all, workers uncovered some 20 bodies here - civilians killed during the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which Bosnian Serb forces killed up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys after overrunning what had been a UN-declared "safe area."

This scene is one of 32 mass graves that Bosnian Serb authorities acknowledged in mid-June, following arm-twisting from the international community that runs Bosnia as a de facto protectorate. Authorities also reported that Serb military and police had "liquidated" Muslims and committed other large-scale human rights violations after taking the area in July 1995.

Such admissions, after nine years of feigned ignorance by officials, are a "watershed," says Gordon Bacon, head of the International Commission for Missing Persons, which uses DNA technology to identify bodies found in mass graves.

While the release of this information could help Bosnia move on from the 1992-1995 war, the Bosnian Serbs' refusal to arrest war criminals - believed to be walking freely in their half of postwar Bosnia - resulted in Bosnia's top international official sacking 60 Bosnian Serb officials Wednesday.

"We have to get rid of the cancer of obstructionism and corruption in the [Serb Republic] structures and nothing less than major surgery will do," Bosnia's top international official Paddy Ashdown told a news conference.

The firings were a political repercussion of Bosnia's failure to be invited to join NATO's Partnership for Peace at the summit in Istanbul earlier this week. NATO was set to decide whether Bosnia's military reforms - which involve putting its former warring Croat, Muslim, and Serb militaries under a single command - warranted an invitation into the group, the first step toward joining NATO.

The military reforms, along with the Bosnian Serbs' recent acknowledgements about Srebrenica, could have been interpreted as signs that the country was ready to move on. But NATO had required Bosnia to produce some war-crimes fugitives as a condition of membership.

The most notorious of these fugitives, former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, was indicted by the UN war-crimes tribunal for genocide at Srebrenica in 1995. He's widely thought to be moving around the mountains of eastern Bosnia under heavy guard. The tribunal's public indictment list also includes more than a dozen other Bosnian Serbs who are still at large.

In Banja Luka, the leafy capital of the Serb Republic, officials had long given lip service to joining NATO, because such integration would end the Serbs' fear of being dominated by the larger Muslim population.

"[The Serb Republic would] free itself from the questions that have come up as sources of conflicts in Bosnia, and those are mostly related to unresolved questions of protecting the interests of ethnic groups and of ethnic minorities," says Branko Vignjevic, a consultant for the Republic's defense ministry.

Most people outside the entity, however, have pointed out that the Serb Republic is a stone around the country's neck. Its authorities have not arrested a single tribunal indictee.

Therefore, international officials here have decided to clean house. Among the 60 officials Mr. Ashdown removed on Wednesday were Serb police minister Zoran Djeric and Dragan Kalinic, speaker of the Serb parliament and head of the Serb Democratic Party, founded by Mr. Karadzic in 1990.

A local analyst with the International Crisis Group in Brussels welcomed the measures.

"It's a long time overdue from the part of the international community to demonstrate that it is serious, that it can speak with one voice and that it can apply tough measures," says Senad Slatina.

Measures taken by Paddy Ashdown, Bosnia's international administrator:

• Supported the European Union's addition of 13 names of Bosnian Serbs thought to be helping tribunal fugitives to its visa ban list.

• Fired Savo Krunic, the director of Bosnian Serb forestry company Srpske Sume, and two police officials, and froze their bank accounts. [Editor's note: The original version misnamed both the forestry company and its director.]

• Authorized an audit of Srpske Sume on suspicion that the company is funneling money to criminal and war-criminal networks. [Editor's note: The original version implied an audit of the company director instead of the company itself.]

• Fired Serb Democratic Party leader and Serb Republic Parliament Speaker Dragan Kalinic from both positions.

• Froze some 60 municipal accounts of the Serb Democratic Party, and ordered the party to create one centralized account.

• Reallocated about $623,000 in the party's public funds to the state court's war-crimes chamber, the state election commission, and Bosnia's State Information and Protection Agency.

• Fired Serb Republic police minister Zoran Djeric.

• Fired three other senior Serb Republic police officials.

• Will task a police reform commission to strengthen the state's police structures.

• Removed dozens of Bosnian Serb officials - most of them Serb Democratic Party members - from public and party positions for creating a climate of secrecy, intimidation, and criminal impunity that allows indicted war criminals to evade justice.

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