Austria detains ex-Bosnian general on Serb warrant

AP News
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Posted: Mar 04, 2011 8:42 AM
Austria detains ex-Bosnian general on Serb warrant

A Serbian colonel who defected to Bosnia's army at the start of the conflict between the two sides has been detained on a Serbian warrant and is awaiting a hearing on whether he should be extradited on suspicion of war crimes, Austrian officials said Friday.

Jovan Divjak was taken into custody in Vienna Thursday night on arrival from a flight from Sarajevo, officials said. Serbia alleges his role in an attack that killed dozens of predominantly Serb Yugoslav soldiers withdrawing from the Bosnian capital at the start of Bosnia's 1992-95 war constitutes a war crime.

Divjak's case is particularly sensitive. After his defection, he was the only Serb to be made general in the mostly Bosniak Muslim forces fighting Serbs who were seeking to break away from multiethnic Bosnia at the start of the Bosnian war.

As well, his case has parallels to failed Serbian attempts last year to seek the extradition of former Bosnian leader Ejup Ganic from Britain on war crimes allegations rising from the same incident.

The accusations arise from actions in the chaotic opening days of the Bosnian war, when the country's capital was under siege and its president had been captured by the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army.

Serbian prosecutors say that Ganic, who took over as Bosnia's acting president on May 2, 1992, personally commanded a series of attacks on illegal targets across the city, including an officers' club, a military hospital and what the Serbs describe as a medical convoy making its way out of town.

While the exact contents of the warrant against Divjak were not made public, officials said it was based on his alleged role in the same incident. Serbia's justice ministry said Friday it will seek his extradition.

The U.N. war crimes tribunal has ruled that there were no war crimes committed in that clash and a London judge last year dismissed the Serbian case against Ganic, saying the officers' club was a valid target and that the medical convoy was in fact packed with army vehicles and military equipment. As for the hospital, the judge said it was unlikely to have been hit on the day Ganic took charge.

In comments to The Associated Press on Divjak's detention, Ganic accused Serbia of harassing "innocent people around the world who are later released anyway," while failing to arrest Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb general wanted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal for allegedly commanding the massacre of thousands of Muslims at Srebrenica.

But Milorad Dodik, president of the Bosnian Serb mini republic that borders on the Bosniak-Croat federation making up the country's other half, welcomed Divjak's detention.

"He should have been arrested a long time ago," Dodik told Serbia's state Tanjug news agency.

As deputy chief of staff, Divjak, now 73, was the third highest ranked officer in the Bosnian army during the war _ the bloodiest of a series of conflicts marking Yugoslavia's disintegration. A strong believer in a multiethnic Bosnia, Divjak said after the war that his decision to defect from the Yugoslav army and join the other side "was the only moral thing to do."

After a smaller overnight demonstration for Divjak's release, several hundred people first gathered in front of the Austrian Embassy Friday and then moved to the Bosnian presidency building.

They yelled "Give us Jovo back!" and carried banners saying "Has the victim now become the criminal?"

"I have not slept all night. I can't believe this is happening," said Vesna Musovic, 56, of Sarajevo. "I thought the innocence of these people was proven in the Ganic case."

Separately, hundreds of Sarajevo children _ some possibly beneficiaries of a charity run by Divjak meant to help poor or orphaned youngsters _ blocked traffic in front of the Presidency. Some carried banners proclaiming "We are here for Grandpa Jovo."

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Associated Press writers Aida Cerkez-Robinson in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.