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Croatia Demands Arrest of Acquitted Serb

Serbia says Miroslav Radic would not be extradited to Croatia to face trial for “supposed war crimes”.
By Goran Jungvirth
Croatia, furious about the acquittal in The Hague of a Serb it accuses of war crimes, issued an international arrest warrant last week for the former officer.

The Hague tribunal freed Miroslav Radic, a former commander in the Yugoslav army, on September 27, saying there was no evidence that he had been involved in the murder of Croatian prisoners in the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar.

Two other defendants, Veselin Sljivancanin and Mile Mrkisic, were sentenced to five and 20 years in prison respectively - another cause for anger, since Croatians feel the sentences were too lenient.

Parliament met to debate the issue, and Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, who had already sent a note of protest to the United Nations, suggested the verdict, if it were not reversed, could fundamentally undermine the court.

Radic, meanwhile, was no sooner back in Serbia, where he met friends and family, than Croatia’s state prosecutors, DORH, said he had led troops guilty of random murder in Vukovar and issued an international arrest warrant last week.

“After the fall of Vukovar on 18th November 1991, it is suspected that he encouraged members of his unit to murder and mistreat captured civilians and surrendered troops. He personally participated in mistreatment and killings and killed Djuro Begovic who surrendered along with a group of defenders,” said DORH.

Vukovar was under siege for three months in 1991, and according to witnesses, Serb forces daily bombarded it with hundreds of mortars. After the defence collapsed, they over-ran the town and killed 200 Croatian men who were taken from a military hospital.

Members of an association of veterans from the war and relatives of the victims prayed for several days at Ovcara, where the mass grave of the prisoners was found, after the verdict. Hundreds of lanterns were lit along the several kilometres between the Ovcara museum and the site of the grave.

Sanader told parliament that he had sent a letter to the president of the tribunal but would not reveal its contents until an appeal had been concluded. If the verdict was not quashed, he said, then there was no point in the court existing.

But lawyers were already wondering if the verdict would impact on a separate case at The Hague in which Croatia is trying to prove that Serbia committed genocide on its territory in the early 1990s.

Tibor Varadi, Serbia's legal representative before the International Court of Justice, said the verdict would help Serbia’s case.

“The chances of Serbia being found guilty were already pretty small, but after this verdict they are even smaller,” he told the Serbian daily Gradjanski List. He pointed out that none of the Vukovar Three had been accused of genocide, nor was there any Serbian citizen currently under indictment by the Hague tribunal for genocide committed in Croatia.

And a source close to the Croatian team preparing a lawsuit against Serbia feared that Croatia’s case might indeed be harmed by the verdict.

“The Ovcara crime was the biggest evidence of genocide for Croatia and the tribunal’s judges determined that prisoners of war were executed rather than members of the ethnic group. To prove genocide, the intention to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group has to be established,” said the source.

“Another thing is that the judges concluded the crime was committed by territorial defence members (local Croatian Serbs) and not the Yugoslav army, which is similar to a finding in a judgment in Bosnia’s own genocide case against Serbia, which established that genocide was committed by Bosnian Serb forces, and not the forces from Serbia, in July 1995, when more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed.”

Olga Kavran, spokeswoman for the tribunal’s prosecution, told reporters the prosecution would appeal against the Vukovar Three judgment, adding that the team had to study it very carefully to determine exactly what the appeal would entail.

She said any suggestions that the entire work of the tribunal, which has achieved a great deal in the past 14 years, should be called into question by one judgment would be absurd.

At a press conference held in The Hague last week, Liam McDowell, senior policy advisor to the tribunal's registry, said the future of Croatia’s arrest warrant for Radic depended on whether there would be an appeal. He refused to comment on whether it was possible for a state to issue an arrest warrant against an individual acquitted by the tribunal.

However, Serbian minister of justice Dusan Petrovic said Radic, now a free man, would not be extradited to Croatia to face trial for “supposed war crimes”.

“The decisions of the international court in The Hague have to be respected,” he said, adding that according to Serbian law its citizens can’t be extradited anyway.

Radic himself, who voluntarily surrendered to the Hague tribunal and spent four and a half years in custody, said he felt sorry for the victims of Vukovar but denied any role in their murder.

“There's a common belief that there is no justice in The Hague. Nonetheless, I believe it is worth fighting for your own truth and justice. My advice to others is to keep fighting for the truth,” he said, when asked to reflect on the tribunal’s ruling.

Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR journalist in Zagreb.

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