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Zelenovic Takes Long Route to The Hague

War crimes suspect arrested in Russia last August is now eventually on his way to The Hague, via Bosnia.
The former Bosnian Serb military policeman Dragan Zelenovic, who was detained in Russia last August, is finally on his way to the Hague tribunal to face war crimes charges, following a months-long struggle highlighting tensions between Moscow and the court.

Zelenovic is set to be transferred to The Hague from Bosnia, where he arrived on June 8 in the company of Russian officials.

Tribunal staff have been pressing for months for Moscow to hand him over, but have complained of delays and a lack of information following media reports that he had instead been set free.

Already tense relations between the two parties reached a new low following the death of Slobodan Milosevic in the tribunal’s custody in March. Prior to his death, Russia had supported a failed bid by the former Yugoslav president to get permission from the court to travel there for medical treatment.

Zelenovic’s arrival in Bosnia came just a day after Hague chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte gave a speech before the United Nations Security Council, in which she slated Russia’s cooperation with the court and cited Zelenovic’s case as a prime example.

Zelenovic is accused of playing a personal role in war crimes in Foca, a town in eastern Bosnia whose name became synonymous with the enslavement, sexual abuse and rape of non-Serb women and girls during the war.

According to the indictment against Zelenovic, Serb forces took over Foca in April 1992 and immediately began arresting thousands of Muslim and Croat residents from the town and the surrounding area. Among the crimes that he is said to have been involved in during the months that followed is the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl.

He was originally indicted in 1996, along with several others. Among them were Dragoljub Kunarac, Radomir Kovac and Zoran Vukovic, who have since been convicted and sentenced to a total of 60 years in prison.

Zelenovic is reported to have been in Russia for several years and to have been working on construction sites under an assumed name prior to his arrest by the authorities last August, apparently on charges of entering the country illegally.

In a report submitted to the Security Council prior to her speech this week, Del Ponte said that following Milosevic’s death on March 11, Russia “unilaterally cancelled” plans to hand Zelenovic over.

Relations between Moscow and the tribunal worsened quickly in the wake of Milosevic’s death. Later the same month, Itar-Tass news agency reported that Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Ilya Rogachov, had said the court was biased against Serbs and that it “fanned passions” in the Balkans.

Rogachov apparently insisted on the need for the Hague tribunal to meet plans to close down by the end of 2010, and told the Itar-Tass agency, “Our position only got firmer after the incident with Slobodan Milosevic.”

Earlier this year, media reports emerged that Zelenovic had in fact been released in Russia on bail. Del Ponte said in her report to the UN that on hearing these stories, she and the court’s registrar immediately sought an explanation from the Russian embassy in The Hague - but one was not forthcoming.

Moscow has since denied that Zelenovic was freed from custody.

Del Ponte’s report to the UN said her office was eventually informed by the Bosnian foreign minister on May 10 of Russia’s intention to transfer Zelenovic to Sarajevo. But even if that were to happen, she added at the time, such an approach “can only be construed as disregard by the Russian Federation for the international obligation to arrest and transfer ‘without undue delay’”.

In her speech this week, the prosecutor said the “long and unexplained delays” in handing over Zelenovic made it hard to be optimistic about the future of the court’s cooperation with Russia.

The eventual decision to send Zelenovic to The Hague was made at a hearing at the specialist war crimes chamber of Bosnia’s State Court in Sarajevo on June 9. A statement issued by the court said he was to be transferred “immediately”.

It is still likely that Zelenovic will eventually face trial in Sarajevo, however. Last November, prosecutors submitted a request for his case to be passed to the Bosnian court system as part of efforts to cut the Hague tribunal’s caseload and allow it to wind down its work. Judges in The Hague are yet to issue a decision on the matter.

Two of Zelenovic’s co-indictees, Gojko Jankovic and Radovan Stankovic, have already been transferred from The Hague to Sarajevo to stand trial before the war crimes chamber there.

Following this week’s developments, five indictees remain on the run from The Hague.

They include the former chief of the Bosnian Serb army, Ratko Mladic, who is thought to be hiding in Serbia, and the former Bosnian Serb president, Radovan Karadzic, whose whereabouts are unknown. Del Ponte has said that plans for the court to shut down over the next few years cannot go ahead until Mladic and Karadzic have faced justice.

Also on the list of outstanding fugitives is Vlastimir Djordjevic, a Serbian police general accused of atrocities in Kosovo in 1999 who Del Ponte confirmed this week is believed to be in Russia. She underlined the importance of Djordjevic’s prompt arrest, given the time and resources that could be saved by trying him alongside a number of other Serbian and Yugoslav officials whose case is due to go to court in The Hague next month.

Michael Farquhar is an IWPR reporter in London. Adin Sadic is an IWPR intern in The Hague.

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