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Comment: Washington Offers Indictees 'Amnesty'

The US has practically reprieved many of the war crimes suspects sought by The Hague.
By Mirko Klarin

During his latest Balkans tour, US ambassador for war crimes issues, Pierre-Richard Prosper, appeared to drastically reduced Carla del Ponte's Wanted List (see Tribunal Update 296), saying the arrest and extradition of just a fraction of the fugitives would make it possible for Washington to close the file on war crimes committed in former Yugoslavia.

Of the 23 indictees sought by the tribunal chief prosecutor, Prosper said last week the US has set its sights on four key suspects, reflecting Washington's hurry to disengage from the Balkans as soon as possible.

They are former political and military leaders of the Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, and two ex-Yugoslav army, JNA, officers - Veselin Sljivancanin and Miroslav Radic - accused of the massacre of more than 200 civilians in Vukovar. (The third member of the Vukovar Three, General Mile Mrksic, is already in the tribunal's detention unit.)

The transfer of the four indictees to the tribunal, Prosper said, will prompt America to stop conditioning economic and financial aid to Serbia and Republika Srpska on their cooperation with the tribunal. The US will also then agree to leave local courts to try the 19 remaining cases.

These include, among others, the commander of the notorious Omarska camp, Zeljko Meakic; Milan Lukic who allegedly burned alive more than 130 people in Visegrad; as well as five officers of the Army of Republika Srpska accused of the worst massacre in post-war Europe - the killing of between 7 and 8 thousand Muslim men in Srebrenica.

By cancelling his trip to Zagreb, Prosper also indicated that Washington was not especially, if at all, interested in bringing to justice Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Janko Bobetko, wanted by the tribunal for crimes committed against Serbian civilians.

The trouble with allowing local courts to try the remaining indictees is that their record on putting local war crimes suspects on trial is woeful.

That 19 out of the 23 fugitives wanted by the tribunal have been granted an effective amnesty by the US is of concern, all the more so because it seems to pertain to people who might be indicted for war crimes in the territory of former Yugoslavia in the future.

It is public knowledge that The Hague tribunal is conducting investigations against several dozen suspects who held senior political and military positions during the war years.

The names of some of the suspects are already known, because they have been included in some indictments as participants in joint criminal enterprises. For example, the three indictments against Slobodan Milosevic - for Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo - contain the names of more than 20 such individuals, who the prosecution says it is investigating.

These are high profile figures, such as, for example, the former presidents of the old Yugoslav federation and Montenegro Borisav Jovic and Momir Bulatovic respectively; the leader of the Serbian Radical Party, Vojislav Seselj; Milosevic's head of secret police Jovica Stanisic and his deputy Franko Simatovic, who commanded the Red Berets special forces unit.

What if any of them is indicted any time soon? Will the US "amnesty" also include Seselj and Bulatovic in the event of the tribunal issuing warrants for their arrest? Does that mean that former leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, under investigation might end up being tried by domestic courts? And which ones will try them: those in Serbia or Kosovo?

The authorities in Belgrade and Banja Luka do not appear to have swallowed the bait offered by Prosper, as the prospect of Karadzic, Mladic, Sljivancanin and Radic being delivered to The Hague before the March 31 US Congress meeting to assess its overseas assistance programme are minimal.

Since the US "amnesty" will become effective only after delivery of the four most wanted fugitives to The Hague, maybe some among the remaining 19 could help meet the March deadline. Milan Lukic, for instance, has some expertise in abduction - he's currently being tried in absentia in Serbia for kidnapping Muslim civilians in Sjeverin.

Might Washington, which is clearly in a hurry to disengage from the Balkans, be willing to pay such a kidnapper part of the 5 million US dollar reward offered for Karadzic and Mladic?

Mirko Klarin is a senior IWPR editor in The Hague and the editor-in-chief of the SENSE news agency.

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