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Dispute Over Serbs' Arrest Imperils Bosnia Peace Path

February 07, 1996|TRACY WILKINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Bosnian Serbs announced Tuesday that they were breaking off contact with the Muslim-led government following its arrest of a Bosnian Serb general and nine others on what officials described as war crimes charges.

The dispute threatens to derail the fragile, U.S.-brokered peace process that formally ended Bosnia-Herzegovina's war less than two months ago and to abruptly end the tentative contacts that have begun between Muslim, Serbian and Croatian officials.

Labeling the arrests "provocative and inflammatory," a spokesman for NATO-led peacekeepers, British Brig. Andrew Cumming, warned of a spiral of retaliation.

"A small thing like this could have a reaction out of all proportion," he said.

Bosnia's state security chief said that some of the men arrested in at least two groups last week were found to be carrying grenades and other weapons when apprehended and that the most senior of them, Gen. Djordje Djukic, participated in deadly attacks on civilians during the 43-month siege of Sarajevo.

His companions were implicated in other war crimes, said the official, Bakir Alispahic.

Angered Serbian spokesmen, however, said Djukic and the other men were illegally detained as they traveled to a meeting with North Atlantic Treaty Organization officers.

NATO sources said the men were picked up at a Bosnian police checkpoint on the outskirts of Sarajevo near the Serb-held suburb of Ilidza. There were contradictory accounts from NATO about whether the men were en route to a meeting with NATO officials, however.

The Serbs' self-declared prime minister, Rajko Kasagic, said the arrests were a violation of the peace accord drafted in Dayton, Ohio, in November and signed in Paris on Dec. 14.

Blasting NATO for failing to provide proper security, the Serbs said they were halting all peace-implementation talks with government representatives and were banning travel by Serbian officials into government-held territory until Djukic and the others are freed.

This would effectively suspend what has been a remarkable series of encounters between former warring enemies inside the capital they disputed for nearly four years.

Djukic, the detained general, is head of logistics for the Bosnian Serb army. His driver and at least two of the Serbs detained with him were likely to be released after questioning, Alispahic said.

Alispahic said the government could substantiate that Djukic and Col. Aleksa Krsmanovic, who was also detained, participated in mass killings of civilians in the Sarajevo region.

In a meeting with NATO Gen. Michael Walker, who is British, Alispahic thumped on a collection of papers that he said proved his captives' guilt, including signed "confessions."

But NATO officials cast doubt on those so-called confessions and said it was urgent that the captives be removed from their Bosnian government keepers to internationally supervised custody.

The government originally said it had detained eight men, but late Tuesday a full list of 10 people had been compiled, according to NATO sources.

Alispahic said three of the captured Serbs, whom he labeled war crimes suspects, are believed to have killed civilians in eastern Bosnia and were arrested in a civilian car carrying rifles, hand grenades and a large amount of ammunition.

Bosnian government officials invited the United Nations' war crimes tribunal at The Hague to investigate the detainees, although none is on the list of 45 Serbs and seven Bosnian Croats indicted by the court.

A spokesman for the international tribunal, Christian Chartier, said its investigators were interviewing three Bosnian Serbs in government custody.

Also Tuesday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights John Shattuck and the commander of the NATO force in Bosnia, U.S. Adm. Leighton W. Smith, visited a suspected mass grave site in northwestern Bosnia and a former concentration camp.

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