NATO roundup signals tougher stand on Bosnian war criminals
1 killed, 1 captured Thursday by British troops
July 10, 1997
Web posted at: 11:35 p.m. EDT (0335 GMT)
In this story:
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovnia (CNN) -- Sending a clear signal
that NATO is ready to take a tougher line against suspected
Bosnian war criminals, British troops in Bosnia arrested one
suspect and shot another to death Thursday.
The troops descended on the two Bosnian Serbs, Simo Drljaca
and Milan Kovacevic, in the city of Prijedor, 120 miles
northwest of Sarajevo in a sector patrolled by British
Kovacevic was taken without incident, but Drljaca was killed
in a shootout after he wounded a soldier, British officials
said. Kovacevic was taken to The Hague, Netherlands, to face
charges before the international war crimes tribunal
investigating alleged atrocities during the Bosnian civil
It was the first NATO operation to capture indicted war
criminals since the Dayton peace accords ending the Bosnian
war were signed in 1995 -- and it clearly stunned the
nationalist leadership in control of Serb-dominated areas of
Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic, looking shaken,
called the operation "terrible" and told Serb television that
it cast doubt on the viability of the Dayton agreement.
"We are totally surprised by this," she said.
Speaking to the British Parliament in London, Defense
Minister George Robertson said, in reference to other
indicted war criminals: "They will certainly not sleep any
sounder in their beds as the result of today's action. "
U.S. President Bill Clinton, on a visit to Poland, said the
raid to apprehend the pair "was the appropriate thing to do."
U.S. forces contributed logistical support for Thursday's
operation, and Clinton was briefed on the plan last week.
U.S. National Security Adviser
On the indictments
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(288 K / 23 sec. audio)
On the involvement of U.S. forces
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NATO officials insisted that the raid, dubbed "Operation
Tango," did not mark a change in policy, which had ruled out
manhunts and required soldiers to arrest suspects only if
they were encountered during regular patrols.
But NATO officials say those rules are open to interpretation
-- and the interpretation Thursday appeared to be aimed at
taking stronger action.
Western leaders are concerned that if those accused of
wartime atrocities aren't apprehended, new fighting will
break out in Bosnia after NATO-led international troops leave
next year, leading to the collapse of the Dayton peace
Thursday's operation also raised expectations that the two
most prominent war-crimes suspects, ex-Bosnian Serb leader
Radovan Karadzic and retired Bosnian Serb army commander
Ratko Mladic, might be next, although capturing them would be
considerably more difficult.
Karadzic lives in the mountain village of Pale, outside
Sarajevo, where he is guarded by heavily-armed police and
continues to wield power behind the scenes.
Mladic keeps a low profile and was seen this week in the
Yugoslav capital Belgrade, where his family lives in an
Drljaca was the former police chief in Prijedor. Kovacevic
ran the local hospital. In sealed indictments, the two were
accused by the international tribunal of involvement in a
1992 campaign to round up non-Serbs in the region and send
them to prison camps.
Their indictments by the international tribunal were kept
sealed until their arrests, to give NATO troops the element
According to New York-based Human Rights Watch, Drljaca
helped set up and run the prison camps, where inmates were
tortured and killed. Kovacevic allegedly oversaw the
transport of Muslim prisoners to one of the camps.
Plavsic said she had won promises from the United States that
Drljaca's son and son-in-law, who were detained during the
operation, would be released.
Several British newspapers reported that the operation was
carried out by members of the elite Special Air Services. The
Times said the crack troops are trained to operate with
"extreme aggression," and Drljaca was cut down in a hail of
fire as soon as he fired a round at the advancing soldiers.
Bosnian Serb television claimed Drljaca was "brutally
murdered." It showed what it described as a witness who said
Drljaca was shot twice, the second time as he lay bleeding on
the ground. The witness was not identified.
The British operation came amid a tense power struggle among
Serb leaders, pitting Plavsic against hard-liners loyal to
Karadzic. Plavsic's opponents accuse her of allowing NATO to
exploit the turmoil for its own ends.
There were indications that the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe and other international organizations
had evacuated personnel from Serb areas of Bosnia.
During the war, Serb forces abducted U.N. peacekeepers and
used them as "human shields" to try to fend off NATO air
Correspondents Christiane Amanpour and Wolf Blitzer and Reuters contributed to this report.
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