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Focus In Bosnia Shifts From Making Peace To Obtaining Justice

  • Charles Recknagel

Prague, Jan. 25 (RFE/RL) - International attention is increasingly focusing on bringing former Yugoslavia's alleged war criminals to justice.

This week Judge Richard Goldstone, head of the Hague-based International Tribunal on War Crimes in former Yugoslavia, told reporters during a visit to Sarajevo that war crimes investigators would come to suspected mass grave sites in Bosnia "in the very near future" to collect evidence of civilian massacres.

Goldstone also met in Sarajevo with Admiral Leighton Smith, head of NATO forces in Bosnia. Both men agreed that the international Implementation Force (IFOR) would provide "appropriate assistance" to ensure security for tribunal teams investigating alleged mass grave sites.

Shortly afterward, U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry announced that U.S. intelligence services would provide information to war crimes investigators on a "selective basis."

Analysts say that the emphasis on investigating war crimes reflects a growing conviction among western governments that there can be no lasting peace in former Yugoslavia without bringing war criminals to trial. The trials are seen as an essential part of restoring people's faith in justice after four-and-a-half years of war marked by brutality on all sides, and by the deliberate massacre of thousands of civilians in ethnic cleansing operations.

That conviction was summed up this week by top U.S. human rights official John Shattuck. He visited four suspected mass grave sites near Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serb soldiers are alleged to have massacred and buried thousands of Bosnian Muslim civilians after overrunning the UN-declared safe zone last year.

Standing in fields near Golgova, where correspondents saw a human femur projecting from the ground, Shattuck said: "ultimately justice and long-term peace must go together." He said: "we believe there are up to 7,000 people missing and unaccounted for (in the eastern Srebrenica region) and I'm afraid that their fate could well be very clear from the mass graves... we have heard about in (this) area."

Shattuck said that there could be no end to Bosnia's "terrible conflict until the facts are known about what occurred and justice is done."

NATO officials reported success last week in getting Bosnia's former foes to pull their forces back from the country's frontlines. The withdrawal, required under the Dayton peace accord, establishes NATO-monitored buffer zones between the forces and is a first step toward disarmament and economic reconstruction.

But obstacles to bringing war criminals to trial in the Hague still remain.

Antonio Cassese, head of the War Crimes Tribunal, visited Belgrade this week to seek extradition of Serbian suspects living there. During the visit, the rump-Yugoslavia's Justice Minister Uros Klikovac told reporters that the opening of a tribunal office in Belgrade "could be expected." But Klikovac repeated Belgrade's official stand that the country's consititution does not allow extradition of Serbs indicted by the tribunal.

Croatia's position remains unclear. This week Croation Foreign Minister Mate Granic said his country would pass a bill enshrining cooperation with the International War Crimes Tribunal. But Granic declined to say whether Zagreb would turn over suspects who resisted extradition.

Meanwhile, the War Crimes Tribunal this week said it would publicize Bosnian war crimes to step up pressure on authorities in former Yugoslavia to deliver indicted suspects for trial.

The Tribunal said it would hold public hearings soon at which evidence would be presented against those who have been charged but remain at large. But under the tribunal's statute, the hearings can not be regarded as a form of trial in absentia.

Tribunal Spokesman Christian Chartier said : "This is a mechanism to remind the world states and public opinion that a legal account is demanded of these crimes."