News 26 Jun 15

Srebrenica Commander’s Extradition Sparks Serb Fury

The Swiss authorities’ decision to extradite Srebrenica’s wartime Bosniak commander Naser Oric to Bosnia instead of Serbia has angered political leaders in Belgrade and Banja Luka.

Srecko Latal

Oric in court in The Hague before his acquittal in 2008.

Photo: ICTY.

Ethnic tensions escalated as Serbian and Bosnian Serb leaders strongly criticised the Swiss decision while Oric’s supporters in Sarajevo prepared a hero’s welcome for the former commander ahead of his expected return to his home country on Friday.

“The extradition of Oric to Bosnia and Herzegovina [was] sickening but instructive, especially for us Serbs,” Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said on Thursday evening.

“Serbia will know to draw lessons [from this], and they are that the issue of war crimes is not always a question of justice, but of politics,” he said.

The president of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, slammed Bosnia’s state court and prosecution, accusing them of filing an extradition request for Oric with the intention of releasing him.

“Most likely next week I will come out with a request for a referendum to take place so that people say whether they support the court and prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I am convinced that people will say no,” Dodik told media.

Any attempt to stage such a referendum would be perceived as the first concrete step towards the separation of Republika Srpska from the rest of Bosnia, and would be flatly rejected by Bosniak officials and condemned by the West.

Dodik also called the Srebrenica massacres “the greatest deception of the 20th century”, Reuters news agency reported.

Both Vucic and Dodik said that they had no trust in Bosnia’s legal system, arguing that the state judiciary took up Oric’s case from a court in the Republika Srpska town of Bijeljina in 2009 but did nothing more about it afterwards.

Oric, who was the Bosniak commander in Srebrenica during the 1992-95 war, was acquitted of war crimes against Serbs in the Srebrenica area by the Hague Tribunal in 2008, when the court ruled that he did not have control over the Bosnian Army which committed the crime.

He was arrested at the Swiss border with France on June 10 on a Serbian war crimes warrant, and was remanded for 18 days in extradition custody. His arrest has caused protests in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he is seen as a hero by some Bosniaks.

Serbia and later Bosnia filed requests for his extradition, and the Swiss Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) on Thursday accepted Sarajevo’s request, which was lauded by many Bosniaks as a symbolic victory over Serbia.

“We are sorry that Switzerland allowed itself to be entangled into this knot of circumstances, but we are glad that the Swiss judiciary system showed neutrality. I find this to be the only correct and just decision,” the Bosniak member of Bosnia’s presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic, said in a statement on Thursday evening.

The overall situation over Oric was made additionally sensitive due to the upcoming commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Srebrenica massacres on July 11.

Tensions increased even further after Britain announced that it will propose a resolution at the UN Security Council which would condemn the genocide of Bosniaks and any denial that it happened.

Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs deny that the 1995 mass killings of Bosniaks represent genocide, despite the verdicts of both international and Bosnian courts.

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