Australian Serbs vow to defend war crimes suspect
CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia's Serb community vowed on Monday to fund a battle in the country's highest court to stop the extradition of a former Serb commander accused of Balkan war crimes.
Dragan Vasiljkovic, 52, who lives in Australia and also has Serbian citizenship, was arrested in January 2006 and remains in jail pending an extradition request launched by Croatia.
But a group calling itself Serbs for Justice and Democracy said it had raised A$500,000 ($416,000) towards a $1 million fund to take Vasiljkovic's defence to Australia's High Court, saying the case against him was a "witch hunt".
"We will be paying. It doesn't matter how much or how long it takes, it doesn't matter if it's $1 million," Committee President George Bubalo told Reuters. "Dragan is an Australian citizen."
A lower court judge last week ruled Vasiljkovic was eligible for surrender to Croatian authorities, giving his legal team 15 days to lodge documents with a federal appeal court.
Croatia holds Vasiljkovic responsible for torturing and killing Croat soldiers and civilians, as well as killing a foreign journalist, when he commanded a Serb paramilitary unit during Croatia's 1991-95 war of independence.
Vasiljkovic moved to Australia as a 12-year-old, but returned to Serbia in 1991 and allegedly ordered troops in the self-proclaimed republic of Srpska Krajina to fire on civilians in the town of Glina.
Vasiljkovic in a statement written in jail last December dismissed the charges against him as malicious and said his alleged war record was "myth and rumour".
"I believe any judge who found me innocent could no longer live safely in Croatia," he said.
Vasiljkovic, Bubalo said, had never been indicted by the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
"There is no evidence Dragan did anything wrong," Bubalo said.
If Vasiljkovic loses his appeals against the extradition, Australia's Justice Minister David Johnston will make the final decision on whether to send him to Croatia to face trial.
Croatia declared independence from communist Yugoslavia in 1991, but its Serb minority, backed by Belgrade, rebelled and seized a third of the country by force. Croatia crushed the rebellion in two offensives in 1995.
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