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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Cracks Down On Bosnian Suspects

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- NATO-led troops seized three Bosnian Serbs and killed another Thursday in their first direct move to arrest war crimes suspects.


The operation did not target the top war crimes suspect, Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic. It did, however, reflect a tough new approach focused on sidelining suspects who might be able to derail the Dayton peace plan when the NATO-led peace force leaves next year.


The NATO supreme military commander, General George Joulwan, identified the killed man as Simo Drljaca, a former police chief in the northwest Bosnian town of Prijedor, and one of the others as local hospital chief Mico Kovacevic.


The Prijedor region was the site of some of the worst camps for non-Serbs at the start of the Bosnian war in 1992, and Joulwan said Kovacevic and Drljaca had been indicted on charges of "complicity in genocide.''


Joulwan said Kovacevic, a former chief of the local government in Prijedor, was arrested at the hospital without incident and would be turned over to an international tribunal later Thursday. Drljaca opened fire on soldiers trying to arrest him and was killed.


British Defense Secretary George Robertson said two other people who accompanied Drljaca had been arrested and would also be sent to the Hague as war crimes suspects. Bosnian Serb television reported that Drljaca's son and brother-in-law were with him at the time.


British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said one British soldier suffered a leg wound but his injury was not life-threatening. U.S. officials in Warsaw with U.S. President Bill Clinton said American troops were not directly involved, but they provided some logistics and backup.


Journalists in Prijedor reported that people were angry at the NATO-led mission, but that there were no extra patrols by either Bosnian Serbs or the peace force.


Major suspects like Karadzic and the former military chief, General Ratko Mladic, would likely be much tougher to capture. Karadzic recently has boosted his security in his headquarters in Pale, east of Sarajevo.


The 30,000 NATO peacekeepers in Bosnia already have the authority to arrest suspects if they encounter them. But they have no orders to track them down.


At the NATO summit in Madrid this week, the United States pushed for more coordinated action. Clinton said Wednesday that the international force could arrest Karadzic and other war crimes suspects if it seems the effort would be worth the risk.


Cook said it had always been part of the peacekeeping mandate that "troops not only can but should apprehend war criminals whom they encounter in the course of their work.''


Official Bosnian Serb media charged that Drljaca was "brutally murdered.''


A report carried on Bosnian Serb television said five NATO helicopters and some armored personnel carriers took part in the action.


The television, which is loyal to Karadzic, linked the operation to an internal power struggle between Karadzic loyalists and Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic. Plavsic has accused Karadzic of corruption, but Karadzic supporters accuse her of working hand-in-hand with international officials to sabotage the Bosnian Serb substate.


Plavsic protested the operation and charged that it undermined her effort against Karadzic. Neither Drljaca nor Kovacevic had been openly indicted by the international war crimes tribunal. But the tribunal keeps some indictments secret.


Both Drljaca, who was replaced as Prijedor police chief last year, and Kovacevic had been part of the Serb leadership in Prijedor, located about 190 kilometers northwest of Sarajevo.


Last year, Czech troops with the peace force confronted Drljaca in Prijedor, 45 kilometers northwest of Banja Luka in northwest Bosnia. The Czechs demanded that he hand over a submachine gun prohibited under the Dayton peace accord. Drljaca refused and fired a warning shot.


In Brussels, European Union officials confirmed Thursday that they are freezing aid to the Serbian-controlled part of Bosnia, citing the current political crisis and the country's failure to arrest its war criminals.


The European Union is the largest donor to Bosnia-Herzegovina. EU funds have financed restoration and repair of some 12,000 homes across Bosnia-Herzegovina, providing shelter to some 50,000 people.