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Former Bosnian Leader Returns To Sarajevo After U.K. Rejects Serbian Extradition

  • RFE/RL

Former Bosnian wartime leader Ejup Ganic is greeted by a crowd as he arrives at Sarajevo airport on July 28.

Former Bosnian wartime leader Ejup Ganic is greeted by a crowd as he arrives at Sarajevo airport on July 28.

Former Bosnian leader Ejup Ganic has arrived in Sarajevo after a British court rejected Serbia's bid to have him extradited on war crimes charges -- an attempt that a British judge rejected as "abusive" and "politically motivated."

About 500 people turned out to welcome the 64-year-old Ganic at Sarajevo airport -- chanting his name as he left the airport terminal with his family after a scheduled flight that brought them from London via Istanbul.

Ganic told journalists that his five-month legal battle in Britain "was not in vain" because he had returned with two victorious results -- "a document confirming that aggression was committed against Bosnia-Herzegovina" and a ruling that the proceedings against him "were politically motivated."

Ganic also said the rulings have resolved "what the character of the war was like in Bosnia-Herzegovina."

The crowd welcoming Ganic included Bosnia's Grand Mufti Mustafa Efendi Ceric, Muslim politicians, and Bosnian war veterans, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sarajevo reports.

Some people in the crowd carried banners saying "Justice has won," "Hero of Bosnia and Herzegovina," and "Welcome professor."

Extradition Quashed

Ganic was arrested at London's Heathrow Airport in March as Serbia sought his extradition on charges of ordering a series of atrocities in Sarajevo in May 1992 at the beginning of the 3 1/2-year Bosnian war.

Damir Arnaut -- the head of Ganic's legal team and an adviser to Haris Silajdzic, the Muslim member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency -- told RFE/RL that he thought British Judge Timothy Workman's ruling would discourage Belgrade from attempting similar extradition requests in the future.

"I expect that the Serbs will in the future think twice before it tried to chase any of our defenders at airports," Arnaut said. "I am sure that in any other country, like in Great Britain, their requests of this kind would simply not be considered."

On July 27, Judge Workman said he thought the extradition proceedings were "brought and are being used for political purposes, and as such amount to the abuse" of his court. Workman then blocked Ganic's extradition, freeing him immediately.

Serbian prosecutors vowed to appeal Workman's decision. But with Ganic out of the United Kingdom, any appeal would appear to be a moot point.

Judge Dismissive Of Charges

Serbian prosecutors alleged that Ganic had taken part in war crimes during the chaotic opening days of the Bosnian war, when the country's capital was under siege by mostly Serbian forces of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA).

During the war, Ganic was a deputy to Alija Izetbegovic, then the country's president. Izetbegovic was briefly kidnapped by the JNA in May 1992 at Sarajevo airport as he returned from peace negotiations in Lisbon. Ganic briefly served as acting president until Izetbegovic was released.

Serbian prosecutors charged that Ganic then personally commanded a series of attacks on illegal targets across the city -- including an officers club, a military hospital, and what the Serbs describe as a medical convoy making its way out of town.

Workman dismissed those allegations, saying the officers club was a valid target and the medical convoy was, in fact, packed with army vehicles and military equipment. As for the hospital, Workman said it was unlikely to have been hit on the day that Ganic took charge.

Workman acknowledged that war crimes may have taken place against Serbian troops as they left Sarajevo. But he said there was nothing to indicate Ganic had been involved.

Workman was scathing in his criticism of the Serbian prosecutors, noting that two separate investigations had already found insufficient evidence to charge Ganic with any crime.

He said he could see only two explanations for the attempt to extradite Ganic: "That of incompetence by the Serbian prosecutors or a motive for prosecuting that is based upon politics, race, or religion."

written by RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz in Prague, with contributions from RFE/RL Balkan Service correspondent Selma Boracic in Sarajevo

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