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Bosnian Serbs eulogize notorious police chief

Bosnian Serbs carry coffin In this story: July 13, 1997
Web posted at: 7:18 p.m. EDT (2318 GMT)

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia (CNN) -- Bosnian Serbs rallied to honor a notorious police chief on Sunday, three days after he died in a shootout with British soldiers who were trying to arrest him on war crimes charges.

At a funeral attended by about 2,000, Bosnian Serbs praised Simo Drljaca as a patriot and war hero, a point of view not shared by Western authorities. The United Nations war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia had accused Drljaca of organizing some of the most brutal torture and detention camps and of expelling minority Muslims and Croats from the region.

The funeral also had political implications for Bosnian Serbs. Many of the mourners carried portraits of former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, who has also been indicted for promoting brutal ethnic expulsions.

And while Bosnian Serbs portrayed Drljaca's death as murder, British Defense Secretary George Robertson said the attempt to arrest him signaled a crackdown on suspects wanted by the tribunal.

Flag drapped coffin

"This (incident) will have upset a lot of people who thought they were getting away with it," Robertson told BBC television. "What has happened this week is going to make them less easy in their beds and some of them will do rash things, which may well have further consequences."

Drljaca: an ultra-nationalist ally

Drljaca was an ally of Karadzic's ultra-nationalist leadership. His funeral was treated as an official event by Serb television.

His associate, Milan Kovacevic, was seized by British troops, also on Thursday during the raid that killed Drljaca. He was extradited to The Hague, Netherlands, as part of "Operation Tango."

The NATO raid broke new ground for the alliance, which had previously ruled out going after suspects unless peacekeeping troops happened to stumble upon them.

Removal may help Bosnian Serb president

Drjlaca's removal may help Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic, who did not attend his funeral. Drjlaca was loyal to hardliners battling her for power.

The move against war-crimes suspects aggravated a power struggle among Bosnian Serbs and the leadership tried to resolve the feud over the weekend. Seeking to present a united front, Bosnian Serb President Plavsic met her rival, Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serb member of Bosnia's collective presidency, on Saturday.

The Serbian Orthodox church, which has links to the leadership, helped broker the talks in Banja Luka but there was no sign the two leaders had reached a compromise.

Plavsic has accused hardliners loyal to ex-president Karadzic of large-scale corruption and dissolved the parliament when her attempt to suspend the interior minister was blocked.

NATO shift in tactics fuels speculation

Serb media, controlled by Karadzic loyalists, have accused Plavsic of provoking a political turmoil which allowed NATO to strike at the war crimes suspects.

NATO officers previously had spoken of a possible violent backlash if suspects were arrested, but there were no reprisals or serious threats against peacekeeping troops after the raid.

krajisnik

Krajisnik has appealed for calm and emphasized the need to cooperate with the 31,000-strong NATO-led peace force.

Western diplomats say prosecuting war crimes is a crucial step in post-war reconciliation and toward clearing the way for the scheduled withdrawal of NATO troops within a year.

NATO declined to discuss whether there would be more arrests but the raid in Prijedor and the use of sealed indictments raised expectations that more suspects would be seized in Bosnia's Serb and Moslem-Croat entities.

The shift in tactics also fed speculation that the two most prominent suspects on the published list of indictments -- Karadzic and his former army commander Gen. Ratko Mladic -- might be next.

Correspondent Christiane Amanpour and Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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