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Bosnia: Actions Against War Criminals Bring Little Backlash

Prague, 15 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - Recent moves by the international community against Bosnian war criminals are raising tensions in Bosnia's Serbian entity, but so far there are no signs of an organized backlash against peace officials there.

Yesterday, Bosnian Serb officials reacted angrily to the sentencing of convicted war criminal Dusan Tadic by the UN Tribunal in The Hague. Both Bosnian Serb entity President Biljana Plavsic and Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serb member of Bosnia's collective presidency, called the 20 year sentence handed Tadic unjust.

But both of the Bosnian Serb leaders refrained from inciting their population to take up arms to protest either the sentencing or last week's NATO swoop against two indicted war criminals in eastern Bosnia. In that action, British troops of the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) shot dead war crimes suspect Simo Drljaca, a former Prijedor police chief, after he opened fire on them to avoid arrest. The troops also arrested Milan Kovacevic on charges of serving as the deputy commander of a wartime death camp for Bosnian Muslims and Croats in eastern Bosnia.

The restrained response of the Bosnian Serb leaders to the international community's moves against war criminals is in sharp contrast to the Bosnian Serb leadership's behavior during the Bosnian war. During the war, rebel Serb leaders defied Western international ultimatums to end the shelling of Sarajevo by seizing UN peacekeeping soldiers as human shields.

So far, the only Bosnian Serb violence likely to have been a response to the SFOR swoop was a car bomb explosion early yesterday morning in the eastern town of Zvornik. The car bomb damaged part of a building used by unarmed peace monitors of both the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) but caused no injuries.

A spokesman for top international peace administrator in Bosnia Carlos Westendorp said after the bombing that he considers it an isolated incident. Duncan Bullivant put it this way to reporters in Sarajevo: "We do not see a widespread, orchestrated security problem."

Bullivant also said the bombing would not undermine the international community's resolve to see war crimes suspects extradited to the United Nations tribunal in The Hague.

But whether the recent tough moves against war criminals signal a stiffening international resolve to see justice done in Bosnia - or whether the moves themselves are just isolated cases - remains to be seen. Previously, many Western policy makers have expressed concern that NATO arrests of indicted war criminals could spark guerrilla-style reprisals against the 31,000-member stabilization force. In one sign those worries could yet be justified, leaflets were discovered in several Serb-controlled areas of Bosnia yesterday promising reprisals if arrests continue.

So far, world leaders have given a variety of responses - ranging from approval to protest - to last Thursday's swoop by the British troops.

British Defense Secretary George Robertson said the arrest effort will upset suspected war criminals who, in his words, "thought they were getting away with it."

But Russian Defense Minister Yevgeny Primakov yesterday said that he would not want such an operation repeated because "this complicates the situation."

In Washington, a coalition of prominent Americans is due to hold a news conference today to urge U.S. President Bill Clinton to ensure more war crimes suspects are extradited to The Hague. The Washington-based Coalition for International Justice, which includes former Republic Party presidential candidate Bob Dole, has previously demanded that U.S. forces in Bosnia meet what it calls their "moral obligation" to bring alleged war criminals to justice.