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Monday, 3 April, 2000, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
Tribunal noose tightens on top leaders

Krajisnik meets the biggest fish of all - President Milosevic

By South-East Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

The arrest of Momcilo Krajisnik, the right-hand man to the Bosnian Serbs' wartime leader, Radovan Karadzic, shows that the net is tightening around the most prominent suspected war criminals.

The Hague Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was set up by the United Nations in 1993 to punish those it considered guilty of war crimes and to act as a deterrent to others who might have otherwise felt that they could commit atrocities with impunity.

But while the war was still going on, there was little the tribunal could do. The handful of arrests at the time were usually made in third countries.

Even after the war ended with the Dayton peace accords in December 1995, the scope for arrests remained limited - particularly in the case of the more powerful figures who continued to enjoy the protection of their security forces.

Small fry

So initially, the tribunal went after relatively less significant suspects - soldiers, camp guards and local commanders whom the multi-national peacekeeping force, S-For, began to apprehend in 1997.

Until a little over a year ago there were only two high-ranking figures in the tribunal's custody.

They were the Bosnian Croat leaders, General Tihomir Blaskic and Dario Kordic, who had surrendered themselves.

Last month General Blaskic was given the longest sentence handed down so far - 45 years in prison - for responsibility for a whole range of war crimes in central Bosnia.

Tougher approach

However, spurred on by accusations that it was only going after easy targets - the small fry, rather than the big fish - S-For has been taking a more assertive stance since late 1998.

Its tougher approach began with the arrest of General Radislav Krstic, who was commander of the Bosnian Serb forces at the time of the fall of the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica in 1995 when over 7,000 Muslims were killed.

General Krstic on trial at The Hague
General Krstic is on trial at The Hague
Mr Krstic, now on trial, is one of three Bosnian Serb generals in the custody of The Hague.

However, none of these arrests matches in importance the apprehension of Momcilo Krajisnik.

He was in effect deputy to the Bosnian Serbs' wartime leader, Radovan Karadzic, who was indicted as far back as 1995, and who has been in hiding for over three years.

Unlike his former leader, Mr Krajisnik's indictment was not made public.

The tribunal's sealed - or secret indictments - have proved a valuable weapon in helping to apprehend the often unsuspecting indictees - and it has been introduced following the refusal, primarily by the Serbian side, to co-operate with The Hague.

The Karadzic question

Mr Krajisnik's arrest once again raises question marks about Mr Karadzic's fate.

He is believed to be in hiding somewhere in eastern Bosnia. S-For almost certainly knows his whereabouts; but until now the price of apprehending him in the face of possibly stiff resistance by his bodyguards has been judged too costly.

Radovan Karadzic - in hiding
In the meantime, the other chief suspect among the Bosnian Serbs, their wartime commander General Ratko Mladic, is enjoying the Serb Government's hospitality.

Last week he was spotted among spectators at a football match in Belgrade. General Mladic is not the only senior war crimes suspect to be at liberty in Serbia.

Beyond reach

Indeed, the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, and four of his closest associates continue to remain office nearly a year after they were indicted by the tribunal on charges relating to the conflict in Kosovo.

In other words, Mr Milosevic and most of those held responsible for masterminding the wars in former Yugoslavia are still beyond the tribunal's reach.

On the other hand, in Bosnia at least, the net has been tightening around some of the senior figures, and Mr Karadzic's effective immunity to arrest may soon crumble.

The tribunal's gradually improving success rate is linked primarily to the changing balance of forces.

Once they are eased out of power, prominent war crimes suspects can be apprehended more easily.

That also holds a lesson for Serbia. When Mr Milosevic and his senior aides are no longer in office, their immunity from the tribunal's attempts to apprehend them will be much reduced.

However, time does not solve all problems. There is a political price to be paid if there is a long time lag between the alleged war crimes and the arrests of those accused of masterminding them.

Once events fade out of the public's mind, the political relevance of meting out justice becomes less important.

In that sense justice delayed can mean - to some extent - justice denied.

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03 Apr 00 | Europe
Karadzic's right-hand man
18 Dec 97 | World
Two years after Dayton
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