CNN logo

Infoseek/Big Yellow

Pathfinder/Warner Bros

Barnes and Noble

World banner

NATO roundup signals tougher stand on Bosnian war criminals

Bosnia graphic

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 forces.

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 war.

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 Bosnia.

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.

Clinton calls raid 'appropriate'

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.

Sandy Berger Sandy Berger
U.S. National Security Adviser

On the indictments
icon AIFF or WAV
(288 K / 23 sec. audio)

On the involvement of U.S. forces
icon AIFF or WAV
(256 K / 17 sec. audio)

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 process.

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 affluent suburb.

Suspects accused of sending non-Serbs to camps

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 of surprise.

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 strikes.

Correspondents Christiane Amanpour and Wolf Blitzer and Reuters contributed to this report.

CNN Plus

Related stories:

Related sites:

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window

External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

Search for related CNN stories:
Tip: You can restrict your search to the title of a document. Infoseek grfk

Example: title:New Year's Resolutions

Message Boards

Sound off on our message boards

Tell us what you think!

You said it...

To the top

© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

Terms under which this service is provided to you.