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SFOR Arrests Milorad Krnojelac

Tribunal Update 81: Last Week in The Hague (15-20 June 1998)

For their initial operation, in which they were assisted by their German SFOR counterparts, the French picked a rather "soft target": Milorad Krnojelac, the headmaster of a local primary school, a man of a relatively advanced age (58), who was not armed, had no bodyguards, and had no reason to be exceptionally prudent.

Krnojelac was arrested on a secret arrest warrant, issued following Prosecutor Arbour's June 1997 sealed indictment against him and an undisclosed number of other alleged perpetrators of crimes committed in Foca.

A public indictment (for gang rape, torture, and enslavement of Muslim women) was previously issued for crimes allegedly perpetrated in the same eastern Bosnian town. Out of eight persons named in the public indictment, only Dragoljub Kunarac surrendered voluntarily (see Tribunal Update 66), while the remaining seven are presumed - or known - to be still in Foca, i.e. in the sector controlled by French SFOR troops.

In a secretly filmed reportage (aired on the U.S. television network CBS), one of them, Janko Janjic, taunted the French soldiers to come and get him "if they dare," while proudly exhibiting a gun and hand grenades under his belt, claiming that he was surrounded at all times by a dozen bodyguards armed to the teeth and ready for everything. To date, no one has taken up Janjic's challenge.

The "soft target," Milorad Krnojelac, however, is not exactly a small-fry perpetrator, at least according to the indictment. At the time to which the indictment refers (April 1992-August 1993), Krnojelac was the commander of the Foca penitentiary, which had been turned into a large detention center (camp) for Bosniaks and other non-Serbs at the beginning of the war.

During the first few months, the prison - which incidentally was one of the largest institutions of its kind in the socialist Yugoslavia - was overcrowded. The number of detainees peaked at over 760, but it later stabilized at about 600.

According to the indictment, as the commander of that prison/camp, Milorad Krnojelac, has an individual criminal responsibility as well as command responsibility for the alleged crimes against detained civilians.

The indictment classifies these acts into five categories: persecution on racial, political, and religious grounds; torture and beatings; willful killings and murder (the list with the names of at least 29 killed detainees is attached to the indictment); unlawful confinement, imprisonment, and inhumane conditions; and enslavement, i.e. forced labor. The charges are legally qualified as seven counts of crimes against humanity; six counts of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions; and five counts of violations of the laws or customs of war.

On Thursday, 19 June, Milorad Krnojelac pleaded "not guilty" to all those counts during his initial appearance before Trial Chamber II. Prosecutor Terry Bowers announced that he might drop six counts that charge Krnojelac with grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions in order to avoid the prospect of having to prove the international character of the war in Bosnia and that the detainees of the penitentiary should have been treated as protected persons under the Geneva Conventions.

The prosecutor has also announced that the written statements of 47 prosecution witnesses will be submitted to the defense as soon as the names of other individuals featured in the indictment (which are to remain under seal until they are apprehended) are erased from them.