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A former member of Croatian Serb paramilitary forces, Milan Spanovic, has been extradited to Croatia by the British authorities, the UK Home Office (interior ministry) told IWPR.
Spanovic was flown to the Croatian capital Zagreb on August 19 and local media say he is in custody in the town of Sisak.
Spanovic, a Serbian national from Glina – a town some 60 kilometres south of Zagreb – was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison for war crimes committed against Croatian civilians in the villages of Maja and Svracica in the area of Glina, in 1991.
Spanovic was found guilty of attacking and torturing civilians and plundering and setting fire to homes and Croatian religious buildings.
A Home Office spokesperson said, “We can confirm that Milan Spanovic was extradited on the 19 August 2009, from the UK to Croatia. The Croatian authorities had sought his extradition in relation to offences committed in 1991. Mr Spanovic was subsequently convicted of these offences in his absence and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in 1993.”
The crimes occurred at the beginning of Croatia’s war of independence, from 1991 to 1995, which erupted following the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia.
During the Croatian conflict, the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, and local Serbian troops – along with paramilitary units – cleared one third of Croatia of non-Serbs and established the autonomy of the region from the Croatian government.
For the last eight years, Spanovic has been living in Carshalton in Surrey. His identity was uncovered in October 2006, when he was apprehended for a suspected theft in a shop in the borough of Sutton.
British police discovered that Croatian authorities had issued a warrant for his arrest, and the process to extradite him began.
Croatia’s first request to have Spanovic extradited was turned down by extradition judge Timothy Workman, who said that sending Spanovic back to Croatia would not be fair as so much time had passed since the original trial that evidence may no longer be reliable.
However, this decision was overturned after Croatia appealed.
Spanovic was convicted in 1993 along with 18 other ethnic Serbs in a mass in-absentia trial held during the Croatian conflict.
Because he was convicted in absentia, he can now request a retrial.
Since 1991, war crimes proceedings have been initiated against more than 3,600 people involved in the so-called Homeland War in Croatia, some media said this week. Of these, more than 1,400 people have been charged, of whom 593 have been convicted and 292 found not guilty.
Goran Jungvirth is an IWP-trained reporter in Zagreb.
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