A British court has rejected a request by Serbia to extradite former Bosnian wartime leader Ejup Ganic to Belgrade to be tried for war crimes.
Judge Timothy Workman said his decision was based on his belief that a Serbian-run trial of Ganic would be politically motivated. He characterized Belgrade's case against Ganic as "brought and...used for political purposes" and "an abuse of process of this court."
Ganic, 64, was a member of Bosnia's multiethnic presidency during the three-way 1992-95 war between his fellow Muslims and Serbs and Croats.
He was arrested on March 1 at London's Heathrow Airport on a provisional extradition request from Belgrade for alleged "conspiracy to murder with other named people and breach of the Geneva Convention, namely killing wounded soldiers."
The incident in question involved the deaths of dozens of Yugoslav National Army (JNA) soldiers on May 3, 1992, while a truce was in effect and the soldiers were in retreat. Serbia said Ganic's actions violated the Geneva Convention.
Ganic is just one of 19 former Bosnian officials Belgrade wants to put on trial for the attack by Bosnian forces.
Outside the courthouse in London, Ganic hailed the decision as a vindication and told reporters that "the government of Serbia tried to undermine the judiciary" in Britain. "I was proud when I heard the closing arguments of the judge," he told RFE/RL. "We won and this [case] will have an important role in further developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in [our] relations with [Bosnia's] neighbors, as well."
Britain's Press Association reported that in his ruling, the judge said two previous independent investigations had concluded there was no case against Ganic and no significant new evidence had emerged since to justify a decision otherwise.
Sonja Biserko, the head of Serbia's Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, testified on Ganic's behalf during the court hearing and told RFE/RL she wasn't surprised by the ruling. "I expected the decision [to be] in favor of Dr. Ganic," she said. "The whole case has been politicized, and the request for extradition had the aim to revise the [history of the] war in Bosnia and Herzegovina."
Bruno Vekaric, Serbia's deputy war crimes prosecutor, said Belgrade will appeal.
"There is a right for appeal and we are going to appeal on this decision. We want to get the answers through the next process to who is responsible," he said. "Is Ganic, or somebody else, responsible for the deaths of 60 victims in [Sarajevo's ] Dobrovoljacka Street?"
Rejected By ICTY
The ruling will be welcomed in Sarajevo, where Bosnian authorities have been criticized for not launching their own investigation into Ganic's role in the incident. The belief among many is that such a move could have preempted Serbia's action.
Sinan Alic, who heads the Bosnian NGO Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Foundation spoke to RFE/RL in March after Ganic was released on bail. Alic said Ganic and the 18 other Bosnians wanted on Serbian war crimes extradition requests were being "held hostage" to Belgrade's policies "as a result of the incompetence and lack of preparedness" of the Bosnian government.
Following Ganic's arrest in Britain, thousands of Bosnians protested outside the British and Serbian embassies in Sarajevo and Bosnia's main Muslim party, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) collected signatures for a petition demanding his release.
Information contained in documents obtained by RFE/RL from the International War Crimes Tribunal (ICTY) in The Hague revealed that it was a district prosecutor in Bosnia's Serbian entity, the Republika Srpska, who initially filed for Ganic to be tried at the UN court for "war crimes against POWs."
The UN tribunal's chief prosecutor at the time, Carla Del Ponte, rejected the request, saying "that the evidence is insufficient by international standards to provide reasonable grounds" to believe that Ganic may have violated international humanitarian law.
Del Ponte sent the case back to prosecutors in Bosnia on June 17, 2003, with the advice that it was their responsibility to further investigate the allegations against Ganic and determine whether there were grounds for a war crimes trial in Sarajevo.
with contributions from RFE/RL's Balkan Service