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Bosnia: Clinton Defends, Russia Condemns Peacekeepers' Action

Bucharest, 11 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - U.S. President Bill Clinton today defended NATO-led peacekeepers' sudden swoop on Bosnian Serb war crimes suspects. Speaking in Bucharest, the president said it was "the right thing to do." But in Moscow, a Russian Foreign Ministry statement condemned the nabbing yesterday of suspects by British soldiers, calling it "cowboy raids" that threaten the Dayton peace accords.

The statement said Russia, which has troops with the international peacekeeping force in Bosnia, "will draw the corresponding conclusions."

Simo Drljaca, a Bosnian Serb police chief, was killed yesterday after he opened fire on British soldiers trying to arrest him in the northwest Prijedor region. Two other suspects were detained and later released.

Milan Kovacevic, a hospital director, was captured at work and flown to The Hague to face trial before the United Nations war crimes tribunal. The action has shocked Bosnian Serb leaders. They stepped up security for their senior officials.

Clinton, speaking before talks with Romanian President Emil Constantinescu, noted that Drljaca and Kovacevic were under sealed indictment from the Hague tribunal and had come in regular contact with peacekeeping forces.

The mandate allows peacekeepers to arrest war crimes suspects with whom they come in contact, but not to engage in manhunts.

The State Department, meanwhile, has warned Americans to be cautious if traveling in Serbia and Montenegro, saying the arrests might spark tensions in former Yugoslavia.

Meanwhile, international human rights groups joined forces today in a campaign to speed the arrest of indicted war crimes suspects in the former Yugoslavia.

The campaign, called "Arrest Now," is a joint effort of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Institute for War and Peace. The groups are calling on Nato countries to order their peacekeeping forces to arrest all of the 66 officially listed war crimes suspects who are still at large.

A statement says that if the suspects remain free to carry out political activities, the entire peace process in Bosnia-Herzegovina could unravel into "a repetition of atrocities."

The joint statement was timed to coincide with today's second anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica, where thousands of mostly Muslim civilians were believed to have been executed by Bosnian Serbs. A majority of those indicted for the Srebrenica killings are still at large -- including the wartime leader of the Bosnian Serb army, General Ratko Mladic.