A Dirty Laundry List

The decision to publish a list of suspected war criminals in a Bosnian Serb newspaper is condemned as a cheap and dangerous stunt.

A Dirty Laundry List

The decision to publish a list of suspected war criminals in a Bosnian Serb newspaper is condemned as a cheap and dangerous stunt.

Serbs were not the only ones committing atrocities in Bosnia. That is the political message authorities in Republika Srpska, RS, want to get across with their decision to publish a list of some one thousand names of Bosniaks and Croats allegedly responsible for serious crimes against Serbs during the Bosnian war.

The list of 941 names and addresses was published in the government daily Glas javnosti in Banja Luka on August 6, only four days after the war crimes tribunal convicted Serb General Radislav Krstic for genocide, and only two weeks after the government of RS reluctantly consented to cooperate with The Hague.

With ratification of the draft legislation not due until September, RS remains the only entity of the former Yugoslavia which has held out against cooperation with the tribunal. The international community has sent clear signals that RS would suffer politically and economically if it failed to do so.

As confirmed in recent opinion polls, the decision to cooperate with The Hague was far from popular with the public. There is particular opposition to stipulations in the law requiring RS authorities to arrest and extradite indictees, notably former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, and the war-time RS army commander, Ratko Mladic.

Many see the publication of the list as a sop to this hostile opinion. By announcing that the government is intent on tracking down Bosniaks and Croats it holds responsible for crimes against Serbs, it hopes to make the tribunal accord slightly more palatable.

Included in the list, compiled by the RS government's Documentation Centre, is the former Bosnian president, Alija Izetbegovic, who is charged with "inciting war crimes against the Serbs in the Celebic-Konjic camp". Also mentioned are the former mayors of Tuzla, Selim Beslagic, and Mostar, Safet Orucevic. The latter is accused of "organising the inhuman treatment" of Serbs held in the Celovina prison.

The Documentation Centre was set up in 1999 with the express aim of collecting information on crimes against Serbs committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia - an activity some believe the country was remiss in carrying out before.

Krstan Simic, an MP with the Independent Social Democrats, pointed the finger at the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, the dominant party during the war, for failing to collect evidence of crimes committed against Serbs. He said that he had repeatedly urged the RS government to acknowledge the importance of dealing with The Hague.

According to an agreement signed by both Bosnian entities in 1996, both the Federation and RS are obliged to inform the Hague Tribunal of any war crimes trial they wish to prosecute.

"Your rejection of the tribunal led to you doing nothing," Simic argued in parliament, addressing the SDS parliamentary speaker. A lawyer who has represented Serbs at The Hague, Simic said that he had written to former parliamentary speaker Momcilo Krajisnik back in 1995.

Simic claims that this letter was not answered, nor were his letters written to the RS justice ministry in 1996, in which he warned of the need for RS to start collecting evidence on crimes committed against Serbs during the Bosnian war. The fact that the Documentation Centre was founded only in late 1999 would seem to confirm Simic's claims.

According to Peja Durasinovic, director of the Documentation Centre, data has so far been collected on 3,170 persons alleged to have committed crimes against Serbs during the war. He claims that criminal allegations have been passed on to relevant courts and prosecution offices in RS, along with witness and victim statements.

Even though he says he has no information whether criminal proceedings in RS courts have been undertaken against any of the listed persons, Durasinovic believes "there is no reason for anyone to feel his name has been unjustifiably listed".

Reactions to the publication of the list have been hostile in the Bosniak-Croat Federation

The daily Oslobodjenje called it a "scandalous move", while Radio Free Europe journalist described it as "a call for lynching".

Others pointed with incredulity to the inclusion on the list, along with political and military leaders, of the late Davorin Popovic, the famous singer from the Sarajevo pop-group Indexi, and Josip Pejakovic, the popular actor.

The Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe condemned the activities of the Documentation Centre as "utterly unacceptable and hate-mongering". Besides, asked the OHR, if the material collected was considered authentic, why had they not offered it directly to the Hague tribunal?

The OHR statement said "the publishing of this list has a particular weight, as it is based on the data of an official agency of the RS Government". It especially criticised the inclusion of personal data as counter to the terms of the Dayton Peace Agreement because it will restrict people's freedom of movement.

Criticism has also come from within the RS. In a column for Nezavisne Novine, a Banja Luka-based newspaper, political analyst Branko Peric accused the RS executive of "intimidation, obstruction of refugee return and maintaining a level of national frustration".

Former RS prime minister Milorad Dodik, now leader of the opposition Independent Social Democrats, believes publishing the list "will negatively affect the security situation in BH", and blamed Boro Maric, an SDS loyalist, of degrading the Glas javnosti since his appointment.

Deputy speaker of the RS parliament, Sulejman Tihic, insisted that "everyone who committed war crimes must be held to account for them, but their guilt or innocence should be established by the Tribunal in The Hague, rather than by the media."

Tihic also expressed surprise that RS had waited until now to begin its cooperation with the Tribunal, reminding the parliament of the agreement - in the Rome "rules of the road" accord of 1996 - barring them from domestic prosecutions of cases destined for The Hague.

In reply RS government representatives have said that they had passed on information to the Hague tribunal, although they declined to elaborate further on the content of that material.

Branislav Borenovic, a high ranking member of Prime Minster Mladen Ivanic's Democratic Progress Party, expressed "surprise that the publishing of the list caused anger both among the public of the Federation of BH and among the representatives of the international community, when there is evidence that the mentioned persons committed crimes against the Serbs.

"With this act, the RS Government has only demonstrated its readiness to cooperate with the Hague Tribunal in a completely transparent manner, and proved that it has a serious intention of adopting the law that will officially confirm that cooperation," Borenovic stated.

Hague officials though are concerned that the RS gets on with the arrest and extradition of suspected war criminals and are little concerned about the public debate over the pros and cons of cooperating with the tribunal.

Meantime, The Hague made clear that it was not impressed by RS's debate over cooperation and wanted to see the entity meet its existing obligation to arrest and transfer indictees.

Special advisor to Hague Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, Jean-Jacques Joris told RTS, the RS television, that the adoption of a law on cooperation was irrelevant for members of SFOR. "They will arrest fugitives [in any case]. They were making arrests in the past, and will do so in the future," he said.

Coincidence or not, the next day, August 10, members of SFOR in Banja Luka arrested RS army Colonel Vidoje Blagojevic, on the basis of a sealed indictment. As a commander of the Bratunac Brigade of the Visegrad Corps, Blagojevic is alleged to have been responsible for crimes against humanity committed against Bosniaks in Srebrenica in July 1995.

Gordana Katana is a Banja Luka correspondent for Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje.

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