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.
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.
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.
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.
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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