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SFOR Arrests Serb War Criminal

By Linda D. Kozaryn
Special to American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Jan. 23, 1998 – NATO-led stabilization force troops in Bosnia arrested an indicted Bosnian Serb war criminal during an early morning Jan. 22 raid.

The force, led by U.S. troops, captured Goran Jelisic after he was identified on the streets of Bijelina, NATO officials here said. President Clinton approved the operation, White House officials said.

No one was injured during the raid, the third in the past six months, said Canadian Navy Lt. Cdr. Louis Garneau, an SFOR spokesman in Sarajevo. An Air Force C-130 transported Jelisic to The Hague, Netherlands, where the war crimes tribunal meets. Jelisic is one of seven Serbs charged with genocide and crimes against humanity.

The arrest should serve as a warning to other war criminals, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. "[The detention] sends the clear message that indicted war criminals will be apprehended," he said.

Jelisic, 29, was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, violations of the laws or customs of war and grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Convention, NATO officials said. He is accused of more than 20 murders, torture, theft and plunder and for ordering the murder of many others.

As commander of a prison camp in Brcko, Jelisic called himself the "Serb Adolf [Hitler]," said Alex Ivanko, a U.N. spokesman in Sarajevo. Jelisic allegedly systematically killed Muslim detainees, "intending to destroy a substantial or significant part of the Bosnian Muslim people as a national, ethnical and religious group," Ivanko said.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Mike Doubleday said Jelisic challenged international officials to catch him. "He said he had a pistol and the first eight bullets would be for SFOR troops and the last one for himself," Doubleday said.

In a statement released at NATO headquarters, Secretary General Javier Solana praised SFOR troops and commanders "for their professionalism and dedication in carrying out this action, which will contribute to the continued consolidation of the peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina."

"We will not tolerate any behavior by any party contrary to the peace agreement," Solana said. He said war criminals will be held accountable.

The stabilization force's mandate authorizes it to detain indicted war criminals encountered during the course of its duties, Solana said. At the same time, he added, NATO continues to insist the parties to the peace agreement are responsible for turning over indicted war criminals. He called for the indicted to turn themselves in.

Along with detaining and transporting indicted war criminals, NATO-led forces provide security, liaison and logistical support to tribunal teams doing investigations and identifying and exhuming mass grave sites, NATO officials said.

In December, stabilization force troops arrested two indicted Bosnian Croat war criminals, Vlatko Kupreskie and Anto Furudzija. Detained by Dutch members of the NATO stabilization force, Kupreskie opened fire on the allied troops and was wounded in the exchange. No NATO forces were wounded.

In July, the stabilization force arrested two Bosnian Serbs in Prijedor. Milan Kovacevic was transferred to The Hague, while Simo Drljaca died after stabilization forces fired in self-defense, NATO officials said.

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