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Britain's Arrest Of Ex-Bosnian Leader Stokes Tensions

Ejup Ganic in 1998

Ejup Ganic in 1998

LONDON -- The arrest in Britain of a former Bosnian vice president on a war crimes warrant issued by Serbia has raised an uproar in Bosnia and is likely to exacerbate tensions between Sarajevo and Belgrade, RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports.

Ejup Ganic, who served as vice president of Bosnia-Herzegovina after it broke away from the former Yugoslavia, was arrested on March 1 at Britain's Heathrow Airport as he attempted to return to Bosnia after attending an academic event in England.

Ganic was arrested on an extradition request from the Serbian authorities, who accuse him of participating in the hijack of a Yugoslav Army convoy withdrawing from Sarajevo in May 1992, one month after the start of the Bosnian War.

Belgrade says 42 soldiers were killed in the incident; Ganic is one of 19 Bosnians accused of involvement in the attack.

Robin Harris, who worked as a speechwriter for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, is a close acquaintance of Ganic and spoke to the ex-Bosnian leader shortly after his arrest.

Harris told RFE/RL's Balkan Service he was "astonished" that police were acting on the basis of a warrant issued by Serbia.

"The idea that Serbia can now just actually indict and seek the extradition to Serbia of people who were, in fact, of course defending the local population against Serb-inspired aggression as long ago as 1992 on Bosnian rather than Serbian territory; and that actually such a request should be even given any kind of proper consideration at all by the British courts is to me quite astonishing," Harris said.

Balkan Tensions

Ganic's arrest comes as former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic defends himself against genocide and war crimes charges at the UN Hague tribunal for his role in atrocities committed during the Bosnian War. That includes the 44-month siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered.

Ganic's arrest is likely to further stoke tensions between Serbia and Bosnia, which have been uneasy neighbors since the wars that ended with the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

Bosnia's Social Democratic Party issued a statement calling Ganic's arrest "an attack on Bosnia and every man living in it." Officials today said Bosnia has secured 200,000 pounds ($300,000) to pay bail for Ganic, a U.S.-educated engineering professor.

Serbian Justice Ministry officials have told local media they will provide today additional documents needed for Ganic's extradition.

Ganic was previously arrested at Heathrow Airport in 2006, but was released shortly afterward.

Harris told RFE/RL that he believed Serbia's arrest warrant for Ganic had been approved by the international law enforcement agency Interpol. But he criticized Britain's willingness to play a role in what is essentially a bilateral dispute.

"We do seem to live in a country where anybody can accuse anybody of almost anything," Harris said. "And we're going to, in fact, finish up in a state where anybody who is remotely controversial politically or has been involved in any disputes or wars will not actually be able to come to the country at all."

Meanwhile, Spanish officials announced today that they have detained Serb Veselin Vlahovic, who is wanted on charges of genocide and other war crimes during the Bosnian War. Police said he was arrested at his home in eastern Spain and was carrying forged Bulgarian identification documents.

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