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REGIONAL REPORT: Tribunal May Demand Early Alagic Transfer

The Hague could insist on a premature end to the pre-trial release of a suspected war criminal facing a four-year prison term for embezzlement in Bosnia
By Adnan Buturovic

Bosnian General Mehmed Alagic is to be put behind bars – it only remains to be seen if he is jailed in his homeland or sent to The Hague’s detention centre to await trial.


As a commander of Bosniak forces, Alagic has been accused of committing a string of atrocities against Bosnian Croat civilians in the early Nineties.


The indictment said that in 1993, he was responsible for killing and mistreating villagers in Miletici and Maline, Travnik, as well as imprisoning Bosnian Croat civilians and prisoners of war in the village of Mehurici.


Alagic, whose men fought alongside large numbers of foreign mujahedin, was also charged with the destruction of towns and villages in the municipalities of Travnik, Vitez and Vares. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.


Two years before he was indicted by The Hague, Alagic was charged with embezzlement. He was alleged to have misappropriated at least 1.6 million konvertible marks - around 800,000 euros - while serving as mayor in his hometown Sanski Most after the war.


In April last year, the municipal court there sentenced Alagic to four years in prison. After an appeal, the conviction was upheld by Bihac’s cantonal court and he was set to begin his sentence in May 2002.


His lawyer, Vasvija Vidovic, alleges the Bosnian court failed to prove that General Alagic misused a single mark of state money.


Three months later, the war crimes tribunal announced its indictment. As The Hague has priority over local court proceedings, the Bosnian federal authorities arrested the accused and packed him off to the Netherlands.


In December 2001, a tribunal trial chamber headed by German judge Wolfgang Schomburg accepted a request from Alagic’s defence counsel for him to be allowed to go home to prepare for his case.


Before making his final ruling, Schomburg questioned Alagic on the status of the proceedings against him in Bosnia. The general told the judge that he was “not guilty” and would not have to serve any sentence if the tribunal let him return.


Alagic was released from The Hague on December 14, 2001 and went back to Sanski Most, where he still lives. Despite the widespread media reports about his corruption and the tribunal charges, Alagic was welcomed on his return by thousands of citizens who considered him a hero and liberator rather than a war criminal and corrupt official.


Alagic was supposed to go to Zenica prison in May. But the Bihac cantonal court ruled the sentence should be POSTPONED (OUT-suspended) until September 3, 2002, after Vidovic appealed against it.


"In April, the defence submitted a request to the Bosnian supreme court on the legality of the sentence, because the trial involved drastic violations of the criminal code. Evidence was not even made available to the defence," She told IWPR.


The lawyer stressed that Alagic’s health - in particular, his diabetes - would suffer in the poor conditions of Zenica prison, and as a consequence he would not be able prepare a solid defence for his tribunal case.


The trial chamber presided over by Australian judge David Hunt, with Zambian judge Florence Mumba and American judge Patrica Wood, requested a Bosnian federal government report on the state of Zenica jail, as well as on the status of Alagic's sentence. The report has now been filed.


According to the tribunal statute and the constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina, The Hague has priority over domestic courts. Tribunal spokesman Jim Lansdale told IWPR that if Alagic is sent to a Bosnian prison, the war crimes court has the legal right to demand his transfer at any time.


Adnan Buturovic is a journalist with the Sarajevo weekly Slobodna Bosna


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