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Two Balkan States Vie For Extradition Of Former Bosnian Vice President

Students of the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology gathered on March 3 to show support for Ejup Ganic.
(RFE/RL) -- A British court will have to decide between competing demands from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina for custody of Ejup Ganic, who has been arrested in London on suspicion of war crimes.

Ganic, a former Bosnian vice president, was detained at Heathrow Airport on a Serbian arrest warrant. But Bosnian authorities have reacted angrily, saying he should be sent back into their custody.

The tug-of-war is being seen in London as an unprecedented legal dilemma, and is already exacerbating long-standing tensions between Belgrade and Sarajevo.

Ganic is wanted by Serbia in connection with an incident shortly after the start of the Bosnian War in 1992, in which a number of wounded Yugoslav Army soldiers were allegedly killed when their convoy was fired on by Bosnian fighters in Sarajevo.

Ganic was detained by British police on March 1 on the basis of a Serbian warrant. Ganic, an academic engineer who runs the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology, frequently travels to England to work with a partner school, the University of Buckingham.

Scotland Yard police headquarters issued a statement saying Ganic was being held on behalf of the Serbian authorities under a provisional arrest warrant alleging conspiracy to murder and breach of the Geneva Conventions.

In Belgrade, Serbian Justice Minister Snezana Malovic said the provisional warrant will be replaced by a formal extradition request as soon as possible.

"The Ministry of Justice is speedily preparing everything that is needed in this case, and I expect that we will submit an extradition request this week, accompanied by all necessary documents," Malovic said. "To make it clear, Ejup Ganic is wanted on Serbia's request in relation to three criminal acts. Of course, what is best known is certainly the event that took place in the Dobrovoljacka street in Sarajevo, that is the attack on the military column."

Ganic has denied responsibility for the Dobrovoljacka attack, and has cooperated with a Bosnian investigation into the 1992 incident being conducted in parallel to a Serbian probe.

In Sarajevo, spokesman Boris Grubesic said the Bosnian prosecutor's office believes it is the only entity authorized to deal with war crimes committed in Bosnia by Bosnian citizens and that Ganic should therefore be returned to Bosnian custody.

Bosnian justice officials have filed their own extradition demand to Britain, and will also request that Belgrade transfer jurisdiction of the case to Sarajevo. Bosnian Justice Minister Barisa Colak said the two Balkan neighbors only last month signed an agreement stipulating that suspects in war-crimes cases be tried in their country of citizenship.

"I can tell you that already during this day a new request for handing over this criminal procedure will be sent from this ministry to the Ministry of Justice of Serbia," Colak said. "We will also through [the international police agency] Interpol submit to the competent court the agreement we have signed with Serbia on February 26, which clearly states that in such cases, like cases of crimes against humanity under international humanitarian law, it is citizenship and the place of residence which is relevant, whether it be a suspected or indicted person."

A London court today refused Ganic bail, ordering him to be detained until a hearing scheduled for next week. Sources in London said that with both Bosnia and Serbia competing for extradition rights, the matter would need to go before a district court judge.

Vojin Dimitrijevic, professor of international law at Belgrade University, told RFE/RL's Balkan Service that the procedure could take time. "We are talking about an extradition procedure which is being conducted in accordance with aforementioned [Geneva] Conventions but also according to the British extradition law," Dimitrijevic said. "Now, that procedure may last for a long time, and that is an opportunity for lawyers to -- with the help of complaints -- bring that process to the highest court instance."

The incident has caused a sharp rise in tension between Serbia and Bosnia. Some Bosnians believe the timing of the sudden Serbian move against Ganic is linked to the resumption of the war crimes trial in The Hague of Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic -- a tit-for-tat action.

One of the strongest statements indicating the stress in ties between the two Balkan neighbors came from Haris Silajdzic, the Muslim member of Bosnia's present three-member presidency. He said those perpetrating the action against Ganic need to be know that Bosnians will "fight with all means" to defend the right of their citizens "against the aggression that has been committed against Bosnia."

written by Breffni O'Rourke based on RFE/RL and wire reports