Serbia charges 19 Bosnian officials with war crimes

Thu Feb 26, 2009 7:12am EST

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BELGRADE Feb 26 (Reuters) - A Belgrade court has issued arrest warrants for 19 former Bosnian officials over a 1992 attack on troops of the former Yugoslav People's Army (JNA), a spokeswoman said on Thursday.

"The war crimes investigative judge charged 19 people for war crimes and the use of banned weapons in the 1992 attack on a retreating army column in downtown Sarajevo," said Ivana Ramic, a spokeswoman for Belgrade's District Court.

In April 1992, after multi-ethnic Bosnia declared independence from former Socialist Yugoslavia, Bosnian Serb forces attacked Sarajevo.

Backed by JNA troops and artillery, the attack from nearby hills set up a 43-month siege of the city that claimed about 14,000 lives. Some JNA troops remained stationed in the city and became a focus of bargaining between the two rival parties.

A deal between the then Yugoslav military, Bosnian authorities and the United Nations peacekeeping mission granted safe passage to the Serb-controlled suburb of Lukavica to the JNA units.

On May 2, the convoy of retreating troops led by UN peacekeepers was cut in two and attacked by the Bosnian army in Sarajevo's Dobrovoljacka street, Ramic said.

As many as 42 Yugoslav soldiers and officers were killed. Another 73 were wounded while 215 were taken prisoner, she said.

The same day, Bosnian presidency chairman Alija Izetbegovic was taken by the Bosnian Serb forces and held for hours at Sarajevo airport. The column was attacked amidst rumours of his detention.

Ramic said former member of Bosnian wartime presidency, Ejup Ganic, was among the people sought for the attack. She declined to elaborate on other suspects and only said "they were in the chain of command back then".

Ganic dismissed the allegations, indicating the attack on the JNA column was aimed at rescuing Izetbegovic after his "kidnapping" by the Bosnian Serb forces.

"For Serbia, anyone who had defended our country needs to be arrested," Ganic told the Dnevni Avaz daily, adding that "Serbia has been launching such stories for years."

The U.S.-brokered Dayton peace accord ended Bosnia's 1992-95 war, dividing the country in two autonomous regions, the Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat federation.

Ganic still lives in Sarajevo. While Serbia and Bosnia do not have a bilateral extradition treaty, an Extradition Treaty of the Council of Europe can be applied, Serbian lawyer and former military prosecutor Djordje Trifunovic said.

Bosnia is, however, unlikely to hand anyone over until reciprocity is agreed with Serbia and Croatia, which have failed to hand over a number of Bosnian Serb and Croat war crimes suspects regarded as Serbian and Croatian citizens. (additional reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo) (Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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