NATO War Crime Arrests Picking Up Speed

Article excerpt

Message from U.S. and allies to Milosevic and his troops: 'The net is closing'

At 3 a.m., one cold morning this spring, in the Bosnian mountain resort town of Pale, black-masked French commandos blew open the front door of Momcilo Krajisnik, a senior Bosnian Serb politician who had been secretly indicted for war crimes.

As French snipers provided cover, Krajisnik was arrested and whisked away to a waiting U.S. Air Force C-130. Within hours, he was in jail at the Hague, Netherlands, awaiting trial before the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTFY).

U.S. and NATO leaders were elated. Krajisnik--a close ally of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic--was the most important of 39 war crimes suspects now in custody. He is charged with helping to organize the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats and the forced exile of hundreds of thousands more during the 1992-95 conflict, which followed the secession of Bosnia from the federal republic of Yugoslavia.

NATO Secretary General George Robertson hailed the arrest as "a very powerful message to those [indicted war criminals] who still have not given themselves up. And the lesson is this: The net is closing."

Kradzic, Bosnian Serb wartime military commander Ratko Maldic and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic--also indicted by the tribunal--"have to realize that the net is not going to stop closing until all of them have faced justice at the Hague," Robertson warned. The U.S. government has offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the apprehension of the three, "or any other person indicted by the international tribunal."

In all, the tribunal has issued public indictments against 94 individuals accused of committing war crimes in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. Of those indicted, 14 Serbs, Muslims and Croats have been convicted. Another 18 have had charges dropped. A total of 27 remain at large, even though NATO peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and Kosovo, including U.S. troops, are mandated to arrest indicted war criminals.

In addition to those publicly indicted, the tribunal has issued sealed, or secret, indictments against an unknown number of suspects. Tribunal Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte is finding the sealed indictments increasingly useful, prosecutor spokesman Paul Risley told National Defense.

Too often, he said, when indictments are made public, suspects flee to safe havens, such as Serbia, or surround themselves with heavily armed guards. This makes it difficult for NATO forces to arrest them without risking casualties and undermining the fragile peace in the region.

"The sealed indictments really work," Risley said. "The suspects have no idea that they're wanted."

Founding a Court

The Yugoslav tribunal was established by the U.N. Security Council in 1993, following reports of wartime atrocities in Croatia and Bosnia. The council placed the Yugoslav tribunal in the Hague, which is the seat of the International Court of Justice, the U.N.'s a principal judicial organ. A similar court, operating in Tanzania, is investigating cases from the genocide in neighboring Rwanda.

The two tribunals are the first war crimes courts since the end of World War II, when former Nazis were tried at Nuremberg, Germany, and Japanese leaders were prosecuted in Tokyo.

The new tribunals, however, are different. The post-World War II trials were imposed by the victors upon the vanquished. The two new courts are the first international effort to prosecute war criminals. The mod ern tribunals are authorized to prosecute four clusters of offenses:

* Grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which forbid mistreatment of prisoners of war and civilians.

* Violations of the laws or customs of war, such as wanton destruction, looting and causing unnecessary suffering.

* Genocide, which includes any effort to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. …