BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia's chief war crimes prosecutor said Thursday his office has faced an orchestrated campaign by war criminals and nationalists — including accusations of spying for the U.S. leveled also by some officials — after it recently moved to open sensitive cases from the Balkan country's wartime past.
Vladimir Vukcevic told The Associated Press in an interview that he, his team and their families have received death threats and faced attacks in the nationalist media that have "coincided with our work in about four cases."
"We have stirred up a hornet's nest," Vukcevic said.
Serbs have been accused of the worst war crimes committed by rival ethnic groups during the 1991-95 bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia that killed more than 100, 000 people and left millions homeless. Although most of high-profile war crimes cases were handled by a U.N. tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, several other cases were handed over to the local judiciaries in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia.
In late December, two lawmakers from the ruling coalition — former ultranationalists — filed espionage and other criminal charges against the Serbian prosecutors for allegedly revealing sensitive information about their cases to U.S. embassy officials. The lawmakers, one of whom is a former journalist who was a prominent supporter of the 1990s' Serb war propaganda, also disputed the election of Vukcevic's deputy, Bruno Vekaric, to the post.
Milovan Drecun, the former journalist and now a lawmaker of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, recently said in parliament that the prosecutors met U.S. embassy officials, allegedly discussing the ongoing cases with them.
"Whose war crimes prosecution office is this, of the Republic of Serbia or American?" Drecun asked.
The accusations were accompanied by headlines such as "Vukcevic reveals state secrets to the Americans" and other articles blasting the prosecutors in the pro-government media outlets. Vukcevic and Vekaric received a number of threatening emails, some directed against their children and other family members.
Vukcevic accused the so-called "anti-Hague lobby" of being behind the threats.
"They have their own newspapers," he said.
"Resistance is still strong in Serbia against facing the past," Vukcevic said, adding that those fearing prosecution included security officials who were active during the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, when Serb troops committed atrocities against non-Serbs.
Particularly sensitive was a breakthrough in the February 1993 abduction and execution of 19 non-Serbs by Bosnian Serb paramilitaries, Vukcevic said. War crimes prosecutors arrested 15 people in Serbia and Bosnia in early December as suspects in the brutal crime, which has come to symbolize a culture of impunity that still shields death squads and their masters.
Associated Press Balkan correspondent Dusan Stojanovic contributed.