Serbia and Bosnia both demand custody of wartime Bosnian leader arrested in London

By Dusan Stojanovic, AP
Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Serbia, Bosnia want custody of ex-Bosnian leader

BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia and Bosnia on Tuesday both demanded custody of a former Bosniak leader arrested in London on war crimes allegations, further straining relations between the two Balkan nations.

Ex-Bosnian deputy President Ejup Ganic was picked up Monday, adding to ethnic tensions already inflamed by the trial of wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic at a U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

Serbia said Tuesday it would demand the immediate extradition of Ganic. Bosnia quickly filed its own extradition demand. The two nations fought one another in the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, which killed tens of thousands of people.

Serbian Justice Minister Snezana Malovic said Ganic, who was detained by British police at London’s Heathrow airport on a Serbian warrant, is suspected of ordering the killing of more than 40 Yugoslav army soldiers retreating from Sarajevo at the beginning of the war.

She said Serbia’s extradition demand will include accusations that Ganic committed war crimes against “the wounded and sick, unlawful killing and use of illegal combat means.”

Boris Grubesic, the spokesman for Bosnia’s State Prosecutor’s office, said Tuesday that Ganic had been under investigation in Bosnia for the alleged killings for the past four years. Still, it was clear that Bosnia’s move was meant to pre-empt Ganic being shipped to Serbia.

Neither country has formally charged Ganic.

The former leader’s daughter, Emina, told The Associated Press in London that funds have been raised to post bail for Ganic. A London court will decide Wednesday whether Ganic can be released until his next court appearance on Mar. 29, she said.

“We are confident that we are meeting the requirements that would allow him to be freed from incarceration,” she said.

In Sarajevo, Bosniak presidency member Haris Silajdzic said Ganic’s arrest undermines Bosnia’s sovereignty and amounts to Serbia seeking to discredit the country’s “legitimate defense” against Serb aggression during the war.

“This is not the first attempt to relativize and set equal blame,” he said. “There will be more, but we will fight to defend the rights of our citizens and the dignity of our resistance to the aggression that was launched on Bosnia.”

Belgrade backed the Bosnian Serbs in their war against the Muslim-led Bosnian government after it declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1992. Serb troops kept Sarajevo under siege throughout the war, which killed about 100,000 people and left millions homeless. The war ended with a U.S.-brokered peace deal in 1995.

Karadzic, defending himself against charges of Europe’s worst genocide since the Holocaust, has told judges he was not the barbarian depicted by U.N. prosecutors, but was protecting the Serbs against a fundamentalist Muslim plot that allegedly involved Ganic.

The Hague tribunal has ruled there was not enough evidence to charge Ganic with war crimes.

Bosniaks — Bosnian Muslims —are generally considered the main victims of the hostilities, although Russia and other Orthodox Christian nations back the Serbs in their portrayal of wartime events.

Bosnia claims Serbia is trying to portray Bosniaks as being at least partially guilty for the war by issuing an arrest warrant against one of their prominent wartime leaders. Officials are angry at London for cooperating in the arrest.

Damir Arnaut, who heads a legal team that traveled to London on Tuesday to represent Ganic, said Bosnia is considering filing international arrest warrants against unidentified Serbian officials.

“All options are on the table now … we are considering countermeasures against Serbia and this will greatly affect our relations,” Arnaut said shortly before boarding a plane to London.

Cerkez-Robinson reported from Sarajevo. Associated Press writers George Jahn in Vienna and Sylvia Hui in London contributed to this report.

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