UK court blocks attempt to extradite ex-Bosnian vice president for war crimes

By Raphael G. Satter, AP
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

UK court blocks extradition of ex-Bosnian leader

LONDON — A British judge has thwarted an attempt to force former Bosnian leader Ejup Ganic to stand trial for war crimes in Serbia, blasting Belgrade’s attempt to extradite him as abusive and politically motivated.

Ganic’s release ends a five-month-long legal battle that reignited tensions between the former Balkan foes, who have been making fitful progress toward reconciliation after the end of the 1992-1995 Bosnian conflict.

Judge Timothy Workman said Tuesday that he believed the extradition proceedings “are brought and are being used for political purposes, and as such amount to the abuse of process of this court.” He blocked the extradition and freed Ganic immediately.

Ganic’s daughter, Emina, burst into tears when the verdict was read out, hugging her father and other supporters. Ganic’s son, Emir, said the family was traveling home and would be in Sarajevo, Bosnia’s capital, by Wednesday.

“We’re all extremely satisfied,” Emir Ganic told The Associated Press. “This shows how dishonest the Serbian prosecution was.”

Serbian prosecutors said they would appeal, but it was unclear how such a move could be carried out, particularly since Ganic is leaving the country.

Ganic was alleged to have taken part in war crimes in the chaotic opening days of the Bosnian war, when the country’s capital was under siege and its president had been captured.

Serbian prosecutors say that Ganic, who took over as Bosnia’s acting president on May 2, 1992, personally commanded a series of attacks on illegal targets across the city, including an officers’ club, a military hospital and what the Serbs describe as a medical convoy making its way out of town.

But Workman dismissed the allegations, saying the officers’ club was a valid target and that the medical convoy was in fact packed with army vehicles and military equipment. As for the hospital, Workman said it was unlikely to have been hit on the day Ganic took charge.

And while he acknowledged that war crimes may have taken place against Serbian troops as they left Sarajevo, he said there was nothing to indicate Ganic had been involved.

Workman was scathing in his criticism of Serbian prosecutors, noting that two separate investigations had already found insufficient evidence to charge Ganic with any crime.

He said he could see only two explanations for the attempt to extradite Ganic: “That of incompetence by the Serbian prosecutors or a motive for prosecuting that is based upon politics, race, or religion.”

Ganic, 64, told reporters outside Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London that he believed he’d been arrested in an effort to divert attention from Serbia’s role in the conflict.

“They abused the system here, and kept me here for five months,” Ganic said. “They are messing around in the international scene to cover up the war crimes they are responsible for.”

Ganic, who was briefly imprisoned and has since been held under strict house arrest, then walked off to celebrate with his family.

Serbia’s war crimes prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic, who attended the hearing, maintained that there was no abuse on his part. Speaking through a translator, he said he needed to review the judge’s decision before responding to it in detail.

Back in Belgrade, an former officer who says he was injured in one of the attacks voiced disappointment at the ruling.

Ratko Katalina, a Serbian colonel, said that Bosnian forces hustled his men out of their vehicles, disarmed them, and then opened fire.

“The court in London probably did not have enough evidence against Ejup Ganic,” Katalina told the AP. “That’s why they made that decision. That doesn’t mean that he is not guilty.”

Serbia’s deputy war crimes prosecutor Bruno Vekaric said his government would push for an appeal, promising “to get the answers that are bothering the families of more than 60 victims.”

In neighboring Bosnia, there was relief at the release.

“Justice has finally been done,” Haris Silajdzic, Chairman of Bosnia’s Presidency, told the AP in Sarajevo.

Associated Press Writer Aida Cerkez-Robinson in Sarajevo and Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade contributed to this story.

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