Monday, March 14, 2005

UN tightens the net around Balkans war crimes suspects - The Independent

War crimes suspects in the Balkans came under increased pressure when a former Macedonian minister was indicted by the UN tribunal, just as a former premier of Kosovo appeared in The Hague to plead innocent of a series of atrocities.

In separate developments, a Bosnian Serb, Gojko Jankovic, accused of crimes against Muslims during the Bosnian war of the early 1990s, flew to face justice at the UN court, and the Croatian government said it had tightened the net around the fugitive former general Ante Gotovina by stripping him of the right to own his two homes.

Recent weeks have seen a flow of new indictments and a series of voluntary surrenders to The Hague. But with the approach of the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre - the worst atrocity on European soil since the Second World War - the two men believed to be responsible have not been arrested. The former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, Ratko Mladic, remain at large.

Yesterday the former Macedonian interior minister Ljube Boskovski, a hardliner during clashes with the ethnic Albanian minority in 2001, was accused of war crimes in the first indictment by the UN concerning the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. Mr Boskovski formed a paramilitary police unit known as the Lions, loyal to him alone, while Ukrainian helicopter gunships were brought in to help Macedonian forces fight the rebels.

The allegations are said to involve Mr Boskovski's role in a clash between Macedonian security forces and Albanian rebels in the village of Ljubotno, near Skopje, in 2001, in which 10 Albanians were killed.

Meanwhile, in The Hague, Ramush Haradinaj, who resigned as Kosovo's prime minister last week to face war crimes allegations, appeared in the court in the Netherlands and pleaded not guilty to each of the 37 counts against him.

Mr Haradinaj, 36, is accused of involvement in the murder and abuses of Serb and Roma civilians and of ethnic Albanians judged to have collaborated with Serb forces in the 1998-99 conflict. Two other ethnic Albanian suspects named in the indictment, Lathe Brahma and Iris Balas, who surrendered last week, also deny the charges.

The three defendants, dressed in dark suits and ties, denied having committed war crimes as commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

Mr Haradinaj is accused of having command responsibility for rape, murder and torture committed by his men. He was also accused of participating in beatings and torture.

His lawyer, Rodney Dixon, told the judge, Carmel Agius, that his immediate resignation upon hearing of his indictment was an indication that he will cooperate with his trial.

The Croatian government made a final effort to persuade European countries that it is co-operating fully with the tribunal - despite clear statements to the contrary from the UN's chief war crimes prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte. Later this week EU membership talks with Croatia are likely to be put on ice over its lack of co-operation.

In Zagreb the chief state prosecutor, Milan Bajic, said the property of General Gotovina, wanted by the tribunal for alleged atrocities during the Balkan wars, "has been frozen". The government decided not to freeze his military pension of some €700 (£490) a month because it is being used to support his two families.


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