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Clinton Warns Bosnian Serbs Not to Retaliate

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 17, 1997 – President Clinton warned Bosnian Serbs July 15 not to retaliate against NATO forces for arresting one indicted war criminal and killing another.

"They have no call to take any retaliatory action, and it would be a grave mistake to do so," Clinton said in response to public threats made by Serb factions following a July 10 gunfight.

NATO had sent British troops to arrest two Bosnian Serb officials indicted by the international war crimes tribunal. When the troops challenged the two suspects during a raid in Prijedor, one suspect opened fire and was killed when the British returned fire in self-defense; the other surrendered, said NATO Secretary General Javier Solana.

U.S. forces provided logistics, backup and transportation support for the mission, according to a DoD spokesman.

Since the raid in the British sector, several small explosive devices have been thrown at British facilities. Another explosive device in Zvornik destroyed the pickup truck of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe staff member, NATO officials said. There have been no injuries in any of the blasts.

NATO officials say they are alert to the increased threat of retaliation. "We take all threats seriously," an SFOR spokesman said. "We are prepared for any risk from any quarter, and we have a strong, well-trained force with robust rules of engagement." SFOR will not hesitate to use force as necessary against those who threaten the NATO force, he said.

"All of this kind of activity is a concern, and as a result, SFOR commanders at every level are alert and are taking appropriate steps to ensure their soldiers are protected," said Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Mike Doubleday.

Clinton said arrests are authorized by the Dayton agreement, which says indicted war criminals are to be turned over to the tribunal and tried. "It also says that if the SFOR troops come in regular contact with those people, they can be arrested," he said.

The Bosnian Serbs clearly have not complied with the provisions of the agreement, Clinton said. "They've made no effort to help us get any of those people."

Stabilization Force policy on war criminals has not changed since the Dayton accord was implemented, the SFOR spokesman said.

"SFOR remains committed to the position that all indicted war criminals belong in the Hague and that the primary responsibility for making this happen lies with the entities [Bosnian factions]," he said. "If SFOR encounters indicted war criminals in the course of their duties and if the on-scene commander determines it is prudent to do so, SFOR will detain them and turn them over to the appropriate authorities."

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