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CRISIS IN YUGOSLAVIA

Wheels of Justice Turn Slowly at Tribunal

War crimes: U.N. panel's record on bringing suspects to trial suggests 5 latest indictees may remain free.

May 28, 1999|CAROL J. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TIRANA, Albania — Although an international tribunal has indicted Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and four top lieutenants on war crimes charges, the court's bleak track record on bringing suspects to justice suggests that the five men might remain free.

Because the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has no powers of arrest or extradition, many of the 84 war crimes suspects now publicly indicted continue to live beyond the reach of international law.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Bosnian Serbs under Milosevic's influence committed atrocities similar to those that allegedly occurred in Kosovo, the two most prominent suspects continue to live in freedom and reportedly travel to Yugoslavia, Greece and Cyprus with little fear of detention despite outstanding warrants for their arrest.

Former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic have eluded capture despite their indictments four years ago and the presence of 32,000 foreign peacekeepers in their country.

And Zeljko Raznjatovic, alias Arkan, has operated with impunity in Yugoslavia despite disclosure earlier this year that he has been charged with war crimes for previous actions by his "Tiger" paramilitary against civilians in Croatia and Bosnia.

Karadzic and Mladic were indicted in the waning days of the 3 1/2-year war in Bosnia that killed 250,000 people, most civilians, and displaced more than 2 million. Despite December 1995 peace accords that halted the fighting, massacres and expulsions, most Bosnians rendered homeless--allegedly on orders of Karadzic and Mladic--are still living as refugees.

Arkan and his troops are accused of committing the most brutal crimes against Muslim civilians in the Drina River valley of eastern Bosnia during that war. They have been reported by refugees to be marauding through Kosovo to punish ethnic Albanians for NATO airstrikes that began March 24.

The tribunal, established by the U.N. Security Council in 1993, has convicted seven men of war crimes, all of considerably less influence than the architects of atrocity at the top. One of those seven has completed his sentence, and another is imprisoned in Norway.

While the tribunal might be described as powerless to bring to justice those with the bloodiest hands from the Balkan wars, a source close to Louise Arbour, the panel's chief prosecutor, said that Western governments have squandered opportunities to arrest such people as Karadzic, Mladic and Arkan.

"The prosecutor has done her job, and the tribunal is eager to try these guys, but we can't do that until NATO [in Bosnia] decides to arrest them," the source said during a fact-finding visit to this Albanian capital, where Arbour's investigators gathered testimony from Kosovo refugees to back the charges announced Thursday against Milosevic and his aides.

The Senate earlier this week urged the tribunal to more vigorously investigate war crimes allegedly committed in Kosovo, a province of Yugoslavia's dominant republic, Serbia, and to indict those responsible "regardless of their position within the Serbian leadership."

That resolution appears to have sent a signal that the international community, or at least the United States, would welcome the indictment of Milosevic despite the complications that it might inflict on the diplomatic search for a negotiated solution to the latest conflict in the Balkans.

The indictment of Milosevic and his closest allies brings to 84 the number of suspects publicly accused of war crimes in the Balkans. Charges were dropped against 18; another 35 were never taken into custody to face charges.

Of the disclosed indictees, 29 were arrested by police or international troops in Bosnia and Croatia and most are awaiting trial. Two other indicted suspects are jailed in Croatia on charges unrelated to war.

In addition to the named suspects, the tribunal has issued arrest warrants and indictments against an unknown number of others but maintains secrecy about those cases in the expectation that it will be easier to arrest the people if they are unaware they are being sought.

Eight suspects have been tried. Seven were convicted; all but one of them have appealed the verdicts.

In the sole case of acquittal, the tribunal appeared to lose an important test of the concept of "command responsibility," which holds leaders accountable for crimes committed by subordinates if the commanders ordered the actions or failed to prevent them. The court in November released wartime Muslim commander Zejnil Delalic after ruling that there was insufficient evidence of his ultimate responsibility for murders, rapes and torture allegedly committed by his men.

The acquittal intensified already widespread criticism that those who plotted the worst violence in Europe since the Nazi era are being allowed to go free while underlings are punished.

While the release of Delalic angered Serbian survivors of the Celebici camp under his jurisdiction in central Bosnia, the convictions handed down by the three-judge panel to three defendants were the first to punish atrocities committed against Bosnian Serbs, whose forces were blamed for most of the Bosnian war's excesses. The tribunal's four other convictions were against Bosnian Serbs for mistreatment of Muslims and Croats.

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