Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

REGIONAL REPORT: Izetbegovic 'War Crimes' Controversy

Supporters of Bosniak wartime leader Alija Izetbegovic have condemned Bosnian Serb attempts to indict him on war crimes charges.
By Gordana Katana

Bosnia's Serb entity has roused a storm of passion by levelling war crimes charges against its old foe Alija Izetbegovic who was the president of Bosnia-Herzegovina throughout the last decade.


Politicians in Republika Srpska, RS, gleefully hailed the charges, lodged with The Hague tribunal on November 8. United Nations officials appeared puzzled that such accusations should be raised by the Bosnian entity which up to now has not been cooperating with The Hague. Wolfgang Petritsch, High Representative of the international community in Bosnia, said the Serb action appeared one-sided.


In the Muslim-Croat Federation, supporters of Izetbegovic reacted with fury. They denounced the charges as lies designed to divert Bosnian Serb attention away from the entity's miserable economy.


The RS public prosecutor, Vojislav Dimitrijevic, said Izetbegovic was


charged on 300 counts of crimes against civilians and prisoners of war and the destruction of religious edifices belonging to the Serb Orthodox Church during the 1992-95 war.


The RS government has tried this move before. On June 11, 1996, it submitted charges against Izetbegovic to The Hague but Louise Arbour, then chief prosecutor, dismissed them for lack of evidence. Now the RS claims to have mustered 350 witnesses, 16 videotapes and nine audiotapes along with thousands of official records that back their case.


The RS prime minister, Mladen Ivanic, said his government "has decided right from start to respect all its obligations related to cooperation with the


tribunal, both in cases of RS citizens accused of war crimes as well


as presentation of evidence for crimes committed against Serbs".


Ivanic went on, "These are charges against one man, not against a people. They are against a man who occupied an important office, who knew about the crimes, and did nothing to stop them. The charges are based mainly on legal, not political, considerations and The Hague will find it very difficult to reject the evidence we present."


Milorad Dodik, chairman of the Party of Independent Social Democrats in RS, said, "Alija Izetbegovic deserves to be investigated by The Hague. His guilt is undeniable and I am convinced he will stand trial." But Dodik acknowledged that the Ivanic's government was "trying to score political points with voters who are increasingly dissatisfied with his handling of the economy".


This view was echoed by Drago Kalabic, member of the central board of the Democratic People's Alliance, who said the "government is preoccupied with Izetbegovic instead of tackling the economy".


But the charges received a warm welcome from Mirko Banjac, member of the central board of the Serb Democratic Party, SDS, Igor Crnadak, spokesman for the Party of Democratic Progress, PDP, and Slobodan Gavranovic, member of presidency of the Democratic Socialist Party.


Miroslav Mikes, a high-ranking official in the Socialist Party of RS, asked, "Why should Izetbegovic be protected and receive different treatment from Slobodan Milosevic or anyone else?"


Petritsch said it was up to the tribunal to examine the evidence. But he warned, "I would like to strongly discourage the RS authorities who have taken a one-sided approach and to warn them to be careful. I think that that caution is in the interest of the RS."


A spokesman for the UN mission in Bosnia, Stefo Lehman, said, "It is very odd that RS authorities should muster the courage to lodge charges against Izetbegovic if one considers that the RS is the only region of former Yugoslavia not to cooperate with the Hague tribunal."


Izetbegovic himself wrote an open letter saying he would leave it to the citizens of Bosnia and The Hague to decide how much truth there was in those charges. "This is just Goebbels-type propaganda," he wrote.


The Party of Democratic Action, SDA, which Izetbegovic used to lead until he was recently made honorary chairman, said the falsehood of these charges was so evident it does not find them worthy of comment. The party described Ivanic's move as an attempt to divert public attention from key problems in the RS.


"Accusations that Izetbegovic was responsible for shelling towns, and even Sarajevo itself in the case of Markale market massacre, are products of the dirtiest psycho-political methods, " said the SDA spokesman Sefik Dzaferovic.


"This also applies to statements that he set up 400 camps, 80 of them in Sarajevo alone. The charges aim to play down the aggression and genocide against the Bosniaks perpetrated by the SDS, some of whose followers today sit in the government of Mladen Ivanic.


"Let Ivanic, prime minister of RS, and Sarovic, president of RS, finally


arrest Karadzic and Mladic and thousands of other war crime suspects who murdered more than 200,000 Bosniak civilians."


Unlike the RS media which abstained from commenting on the charges, the Federation press have condemned them as an " insult" and as "amoral".


They reminded the readership of the fact that Karadzic and Mladic have not been caught and extradited yet. Federation daily Dnevni Avaz even referred to the charges as a "witch-hunt".


Florence Hartmann, the tribunal chief prosecutor's spokesperson, declined to comment on the content of the charges which she said had not yet been received by The Hague. She said all the documents, including the videotapes and bundles of papers had been submitted to the tribunal office in Banja Luka, but had not so far reached the prosecution.


Amra Kebo is a member of IWPR's war crimes reporting network. She is also editor of Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje and IWPR's Assistant Editor in Sarajevo. Gordana Katana is a member of IWPR's war crimes reporting network and a Banja Luka correspondent for Sarajevo daily Dnevni Avaz.