Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

As U.S. Shifts in Bosnia, NATO Gets Serious about War Criminals

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

As U.S. Shifts in Bosnia, NATO Gets Serious about War Criminals

Article excerpt

As U.S. Shifts in Bosnia, NATO Gets Serious About War Criminals

"If there was a heart of the Bosnian darkness, it was Prijedor." -- Author Christopher Bennett, Christian Science Monitor, July 18, 1997.

"Fear of casualties is what inhibits NATO and keeps it from hunting down the 70-odd known Yugoslav suspects still at large. But it has to be understood that a demonstrated readiness to take casualties can be precisely the factor that enables soldiers to avoid being shot at."

-- Washington Post editorial, July 11, 1997. "The bad guys know -- or think they know -- that the United States will not take casualties. They will test us."

-- Columnist Richard Cohen, Washington Post, July 15, 1997.

A report attributed to "U.S. intelligence sources" early in July warned, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, that U.S. Special Forces and the CIA had "prepared a secret plan to capture" indicted Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and turn him over to the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague. Probably no one took it seriously but Karadzic, who reportedly had surrounded himself with 200 bodyguards as he pursued a power struggle with his former protégé, "Republic of Srpska" President Biljana Plavsic.

Plavsic, whose political base is in western Bosnia around Banja Luka, seemed to have forgotten that her role was to govern the Serb half of Bosnia in name only while waiting for U.S.-led NATO troops to withdraw by June 30, 1998. Then, instead of adhering to the Dayton accord for a tri-partite Muslim, Serb, and Croat-ruled Bosnian Republic, Karadzic, whose political base is around Pale in eastern Bosnia, would decide whether to go it alone in the Serb-ruled 49 percent of that republic, or allow it to be annexed by President Slobodan Milosevic, who governs Serbia and Montenegro in the name of the Federation of Yugoslavia.

Therefore tension had soared in July after Plavsic, whose extreme Serb nationalism echoes or even exceeds that of Milosevic and Karadzic, issued a public denunciation of Karadzic, accusing her former mentor of enriching himself through a monopoly on the customs-free gasoline and cigarettes flowing freely into the Serb-controlled half of Bosnia.

When it came, however, the strike by NATO troops, called "Operation Tango," was not launched against Karadzic. Instead, at 9:30 a.m. on July 10, British special forces, posing as International Red Cross officials, talked their way into the hospital at Prijedor, 120 miles northwest of Sarajevo, and seized its director, Milan Kovacevic.

Kovacevic had been deputy mayor of Prijedor in April 1992 when he allegedly participated in rounding up the city's Muslim inhabitants and then helped supervise their imprisonment in the notorious Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje internment camps, where many allegedly starved or were beaten or shot to death. Kovacevic surrendered without resistance and was flown in an American helicopter to the U.S. military base at Tuzla and then taken in a U.S. C-130 military transport aircraft to The Hague to face trial.

When it came, the strike by NATO troops was not launched against Karadzic.

At the same time, other British commandos surrounded at a reservoir near Prijedor a party of four fishermen that included Simo Drljaca. Drljaca had been forced to step down as Prijedor police chief on charges that he led the Bosnian Serb takeover of the city in April 1992 and subsequently conducted a campaign of harassment that reduced the city's Muslim population from 50,000 then to virtually none today. As a logistics assistant to the Republic of Srpska's interior minister he continued to spend much of his time with the Prijedor police, and was in charge of providing false documents and safe houses to other Bosnian Serbs wanted on war crimes charges.

Drljaca, who escaped capture once before by pointing a machine gun at Czech troops who sought to detain him, opened fire on the British special forces troops, wounding one in the leg. …

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