Page last updated at 21:00 GMT, Thursday, 11 March 2010

No let-up in row over ex-Bosnian leader's arrest

By Raymond Furlong
BBC News

The arrest of a former Bosnian president is still causing diplomatic fallout, even after the decision by the High Court in London on Thursday to release him on bail.

Former Bosnian leader Ejup Ganic
The Foreign Office insists Mr Ganic's arrest is purely a judicial matter

Ejup Ganic was arrested on 1 March on a Serbian extradition request alleging war crimes committed in 1992. His arrest sparked demonstrations outside the British embassy in Sarajevo and diplomatic protests.

But speaking in London after his release, the Bosnian President Haris Silajdzic said he had told the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband that this was not the end of the matter.

"I said that I believe that an apology is in order so that the citizens of Bosnia and Hercegovina will know that our relations are normal, that this was an aberration in otherwise good and friendly relations," said Mr Silajdzic.

He said Mr Ganic had been denied access to his lawyer and to embassy staff while in custody at Wandsworth Prison, and was even denied medication for high blood pressure.

"We are shocked. We believed this was an old democratic country, a democratic society. We did not expect this to happen here," he said.

Pawn in Serbian 'game'?

Mr Silajdzic added that Mr Miliband said a verbal or written apology would be made if an investigation substantiated the Bosnian claims. However, a UK government source told me that "exhaustive investigations had already been made".

"We can't find anything to suggest he was mistreated," said the source.

He added that Mr Ganic agreed a first meeting with a lawyer and Bosnian embassy officials on 3 March at 1830 GMT.

"But they arrived at 1930 GMT, an hour late, after prison visiting hours."

Aside from the question of Mr Ganic's treatment, Bosnia feels Britain has been used as a pawn in a perfidious Serbian game to draw attention away from the trial of Radovan Karadzic in The Hague.

This has made us a laughing stock in the Balkans
Robin Harris
Former Thatcher speechwriter

It is a line of interpretation that many Balkan watchers agree on.

Robin Harris, a former speechwriter for Baroness Thatcher, said: "The Serbs were lucky he was in London just as the Karadzic trial was starting. They want to distract attention from it, and to relativise what happened in the war, reversing the roles of victim and aggressor.

"This has made us a laughing stock in the Balkans. There are all sorts of jokes and unpleasant remarks in the press. The Serbs can't believe their luck. But we aren't behaving in an anti-Bosnian way: it is incompetence and stupidity, not malice."

Mr Ganic is also a close friend of Baroness Thatcher, whom he met in Gstaad, in Switzerland, in the early 1990s after slipping out of Sarajevo on a Red Cross flight to plead for help.

Anonymous woman

Robin Harris said he has been discussing the case with her regularly. "She strongly supports him and wants him to be freed. She doesn't believe the accusations."

But President Silajdzic quashed rumours that she was the anonymous woman who had provided £300,000 to bail Mr Ganic.

Before Mr Ganic's arrest, there had been some progress in improving relations between Serbia and Bosnia.

In January, for example, direct trains between Belgrade and Sarajevo resumed for the first time since the war, 18 years ago. Political and trade contacts have also been quietly developing.

This is a distraction from the really important issues like Serbia's [future] EU accession talks, healing the wounds of the war
British government source

But Mr Silajdzic said the Ganic affair had "reversed the gains made". He said it was connected with Serbia's internal problems, such as a pending parliamentary resolution on the massacre at Srebrenica, and to distract attention from other things - "they still have Radko Mladic at large in Serbia".

"Hardliners there are obviously delighted by Mr Ganic's arrest," he said. "I believe this will be a short-lived triumph."

Serbia has made little comment on the case, referring to the High Court decision as a "procedural matter".

In Belgrade, the Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said: "We expect that the arguments and evidence Serbia has will be taken into serious consideration, as concerns the essential issue (of alleged war crimes)".

Meanwhile the Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said President Silajdzic was "abusing" his position by going to London to support Mr Ganic.

The British government source said the affair was a distraction for everyone.

"It's not helpful. Bosnia has its own difficulties, it still hasn't moved on from having the High Representative, it's a long way from EU membership.

"This is a distraction from the really important issues like Serbia's [future] EU accession talks, healing the wounds of the war, and the internal problems of Bosnia. It's taking us all back to the past."

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