Court: Retired Bosnian army general free on bail

AP News
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Posted: Mar 08, 2011 1:45 PM
Court: Retired Bosnian army general free on bail

An Austrian court on Tuesday ordered the release of a former Bosnian army general whom Serbia accuses of war crimes, while extradition proceedings continue.

Jovan Divjak, who defected from the former Yugoslav army to the mostly Muslim Bosniak forces at the start of Bosnia's 1992-1995 war, was taken into Austrian custody on Thursday at the request of Serbia. The case has sparked protests and diplomatic strain.

While Divjak is considered a hero in Bosnia, Serbia alleges that his role in an attack that killed dozens of predominantly Serb Yugoslav soldiers withdrawing from the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo constitutes a war crime. The U.N. war crimes tribunal has ruled that no war crime was committed then but Serbia has still issued international warrants against 19 people.

Divjak was freed after the court in the town of Korneuburg received a euro500,000 ($694,500) bail sum, said Christa Zemanek, a spokeswoman for the court. He is not allowed to leave Austria as extradition proceedings continue, she said.

Bosnian Foreign Minister Sven Alkalaj, who has been in Vienna since Monday, welcomed Divjak's release.

"We are all very pleased that the general is now out of prison," Alkalaj told The Associated Press by phone. "We will use this time to prove his innocence."

When asked about Divjak's condition, Alkalaj said: "He is feeling great, feeling very joyful among friends here."

Earlier in the day, Alkalaj said Serbia's allegations were politically motivated.

"We believe it's politically motivated, no doubt about it," Alkalaj told The AP after meeting with Austrian President Heinz Fischer to discuss the issue.

"We have faith in the justice system, international law and how Austria will handle this," Alkalaj said.

There was no immediate comment from officials in Serbia. Milovan Bozinovic, Serbia's ambassador to Austria, said in comments quoted by the Austria Press Agency that his country wanted to "avoid a further politicization of the case" and would strictly adhere to the legal framework.

Bosnian intellectuals say Serbia is targeting Divjak because he is the ultimate symbol of Bosnia's ethnic diversity.

"General Divjak is a man who showed courage and decisiveness in fighting for the idea of a multiethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina," said Mirko Pejanovic, a Bosnian Serb from Sarajevo.

It is not the first time that Serbia has been accused of using arrest warrants for political purposes. Ejup Ganic, a former vice president of Bosnia, was briefly held in British custody last year after being arrested in London on a Serbian extradition warrant. After a lengthy legal battle, a U.K. judge rejected the Serbian request, saying the warrant had been used "for political purposes."

Austria's foreign minister has indicated that Austria would not extradite Divjak to Serbia.

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Aida Cerkez contributed to this report from Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.