BOSNIA: New Claims in NATO Surveillance Scandal

Bosnian Serb tapping of NATO communications could have helped alleged war criminals evade capture.

BOSNIA: New Claims in NATO Surveillance Scandal

Bosnian Serb tapping of NATO communications could have helped alleged war criminals evade capture.

The Bosnian Serbs may have used information gleaned from NATO surveillance to aid the Yugoslav army during alliance air-strikes and enable Bosnian Serb war crimes suspects escape arrest.

Peacekeepers in Bosnia discovered that the Republika Srpska, RS, army had engaged in unauthorised surveillance of their communications, after a series of raids on Bosnian Serb military facilities in May.

Major Scott Lundy, spokesman for the SFOR peacekeepers, told IWPR that they launched the first raid on May 20 on a radar post in Lisina, near Prijedor, north-west Bosnia, after receiving evidence of electronic surveillance of NATO troops.

SFOR seized unregistered bugging equipment and documents in the operation. "This was unregistered equipment used for systematic and deliberate surveillance of SFOR communications and air operations," another SFOR spokesman, John Coppard, told IWPR.

Coppard declined to say how sophisticated these bugging devices were or for how long the equipment had been used to monitor and survey SFOR activities.

A source close to SFOR said some of the confiscated documents dated back to 1998, which means the Bosnian Serb army may have possessed important information on NATO preparations to bomb Yugoslavia and could have been handed it to federal army command. NATO began bombing Yugoslav military strategic positions in the spring of 1999. The air campaign lasted 78 days.

After seizing and examining the equipment and documents at Lisina, SFOR then searched the premises of the Bosnian Serb air force and anti-aircraft defense command in Zalucani, near Banja Luka, on May 29.

There, NATO confiscated three computers and five boxes full of documents. SFOR officials said the inspection of these documents could take several weeks.

Right after the bugging equipment was discovered and the scope of the electronic surveillance of SFOR communication determined, the commander of the stabilization force, American general John Sylvester, ordered the suspension from duty of General Milan Torbica, commander of the Bosnian Serb air force.

Sylvester also forbade continued training and movement of all Bosnian Serb air force units until the investigation was completed.

The Bosnian Serb army was asked to surrender any information it possessed on reconnaissance missions and electronic warfare operations against alliance air forces and infantry.

The SFOR commander announced that once its investigation into the affair was over, he would demand the dismissal of all Bosnian Serb army officers who had taken part in these operations.

The military authorities in Banja Luka have admitted having reconnaissance and bugging equipment in Lisina, but insist it was solely used to train their soldiers and not used against NATO.

The Bosnian Serb prime minister, Mladen Ivanic, said he was not informed that his armed forces were bugging SFOR, while the defence minister, Slobodan Bilic, issued a brief statement saying the general staff had been ordered to investigate the claims in detail and apportion responsibility.

News of the bugging scandal triggered immediate speculation over whether the equipment was used to warn Bosnian Serb war crimes suspects of possible arrest actions by SFOR.

In February, NATO peacekeepers launched their first officially recognised action to seize the top Hague indictee, former Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic.

In a helicopter-borne operation in Celebici, near Foca, in eastern Bosnia, SFOR troops captured a quantity of weapons believed to belong to Karadzic's security force but failed to catch the man himself.

SFOR officials said it was unlikely the Bosnian Serb bugging operation was responsible for this failure. "Having in mind the distance between the two locations, it is unlikely that the Lisina location could have affected our operation in Celebici," said Major Lundy.

But sources close to the defense ministry of the Federation told IWPR the radar on Lisina had been connected to a similar one on Mt Kumur, only a few miles from Foca. Thus, the encoded intelligence information could have been sent from one to the other location in a matter of seconds.

Senad Slatina is a journalist with the Bosnia weekly Slobodna Bosna.

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