The Bosnian Serb authorities seem unwilling to arrest key war crimes suspects despite adopting a law on cooperation with The Hague


The Bosnian Serb authorities seem unwilling to arrest key war crimes suspects despite adopting a law on cooperation with The Hague

Saturday, 8 December, 2001

Bosnia: Ivanic Plays at Hague Cooperation

The Bosnian Serb government has come under increasing pressure to start arresting war crimes suspects following its adoption in October of a law on cooperation with The Hague tribunal. But few believe the Republika Srspka, RS, authorities plan to carry out such detentions, in the short term at least.

The new law, which appeared in the official gazette on October 17, has yet to result in cooperation with the tribunal. The legislation served the political purposes of Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic's government, which walks a tightrope between the conflicting demands of the international community and the largest parliamentary party in RS, the radical Serbian Democratic Party, SDS.

In getting the law adopted, Ivanic has pleased the West but angered the SDS - although the latter's fury is tempered by the fact that few here believe the legislation will ever be properly implemented. Optimistic predictions that RS institutions are about to start working with The Hague lack substance and need to be toned down.

Recently, and with increasing frequency, the prime minister's advisor on relations with The Hague, Sinisa Djordjevic, has described cooperation with the tribunal as a "relativistic thing" - which leads one to conclude that this will amount to merely checking addresses of suspects and filing reports that they are not to be found there - a procedural way of buying time.

Ivanic has consistently maintained his government is not aware that key war crime suspects, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, are on Bosnian Serb territory. The Yugoslav authorities say the same, which begs the question - where are The Hague's two most wanted hiding these days?

A source close to the Bosnian Serb leadership claims Karadzic is indeed sheltering in the entity, surrounded by strong security. The informant told IWPR that SDS leaders and government officials know of his whereabouts. He alleges that the former are involved in an illegal enterprise providing Karadzic funds to pay his security staff, and claims the latter are aware of this operation.

A few months ago, the former prime minister Milorad Dodik also publicly accused the SDS of helping raise funds for Karadzic.

The RS government and SDS officials have denied these allegations.

As for Mladic, it is thought that he has no permanent place of residence, but moves back and forth between the entity and Yugoslavia. His close wartime associates dismiss claims by tribunal chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte that the Yugoslav army is providing protection. They say Mladic is more likely to trust his own instincts than to rely on official services.

Some analysts have suggested that Banja Luka's recent decision to bring war crimes charges against Alija Izetbegovic was an attempt to prepare public opinion for the arrest of the RS wartime leaders.

But other observers disagree. They believe the RS authorities were merely taking advantage of the former Bosniak president's alleged links with Islamic militants - which resurfaced at the height of the US-led campaign against the Taleban and the al-Qaeda network - to press The Hague to indict him.

One of the biggest obstacles to the detention of Karadzic and Mladic is that most of the entity's electorate view them as national symbols.

A survey conducted in early November by the private research agency Partner asked a sample of 850 people whether they believed Karadzic should be extradited. Around 80 per cent said they opposed the idea. About 6 per cent were in favour.

The authorities' general attitude to war crimes and war criminals is perhaps best illustrated by their treatment of those already detained at The Hague. The prisoners there are regarded as honoured citizens, enjoying visits from RS officials and financial support for themselves and their families.

No one in the entity believes the authorities will attempt to arrest Karadzic and Mladic. Although the two are unlikely to be under the direct protection of the government, they are certainly protected by parallel intelligence, security and defence mechanisms installed and developed by the SDS during the war. This system operates independently of the official police-intelligence structures, but is nevertheless very closely connected to them.

Branko Peric is one of the editors of AIM and ONASA in Banja Luka

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