Monday, April 25, 2005

Serbia Acts on War Crimes to Strengthen Ties to West - The New York Times

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia and Herzegovina, April 22 - On Oct. 22, 1999, the morning of his 45th birthday, Zelko Kopanja got into his car in this Bosnian Serb city and turned on the ignition, detonating a bomb.

Mr. Kopanja, editor of the newspaper Nezavisne Novine, contends that the bomb, which cost him both his legs, was planted by Serbia's security services to stop him from publishing articles detailing atrocities committed by Serbs against Muslims during Bosnia's civil war, from 1992 to 1995. A subsequent F.B.I. investigation supported his suspicions.

Six years after the bombing, though, he says he is witnessing a remarkable turn of events, with governments across the region seeking closer ties with the West by taking action against those his articles said were responsible for war crimes.

In the last three months the Serbian government and the authorities in Bosnia's Serb Republic have transferred 11 Serbs accused of involvement in atrocities during the wars of the 1990's to the World Court in The Hague. Another suspect, Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic, the commander of the Yugoslav Army during the 1999 conflict in Kosovo, is expected to be transferred to the court on Monday.

"Those who labeled me as a traitor and a spy today believe in my concept of life," said Mr. Kopanja, who now walks with prosthetic legs and crutches. "They have become the biggest supporters of Nezavisne Novine." While he said he was not necessarily comfortable with the newfound support, he also said it indicated substantial change in the region.

While many Serbs still regard the war crimes suspects as heroes, the readiness of their governments to surrender them to the court represents weakening nationalism across the region, diplomats and political analysts say. Diplomats say the change results from international pressure, including United States penalties and threats from Bosnia's international administrator to dismiss politicians who did not comply.

But politicians here also say they have little choice but to seek membership in the European Union and NATO to help flagging economies.

The benefits of membership to Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia have become more evident as their former Communist bloc neighbors Bulgaria and Romania have moved within two years of possible membership and have grown substantially.

"We need a proper vision for the future, and right now we can find that in the European vision," said Serbia's agriculture minister, Ivana Dulic-Markova, a member of the G17 Plus change-oriented party.

Serbia has become the last of the former Yugoslav states embroiled in the wars of the 1990's to drop its opposition to the World Court. Croatia transferred eight suspects to the court in 2004. Bosnia's Serb Republic began to comply late last year, and Serbia stepped up its hitherto lackluster cooperation in February.

Serbia has begun to arrest war crimes suspects, albeit declaring they have surrendered "voluntarily," the deputy prime minister, Miroljub Labus, said. Previously, they left it up to those sought on war crimes charges to decide whether to surrender. "We decided to make it or break it," Mr. Labus said recently. He said that G17 Plus, which is also his party, had threatened to quit Serbia's minority government unless it changed its policy and tried to forge closer ties with the European Union.

Serbia's bid for European Union membership had been blocked over its lack of cooperation with the court.

On April 12, the European Commission, the European Union's executive branch, rewarded Serbia for its policy shift with a recommendation for talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement, a first step toward membership. European foreign ministers are expected to approve that decision on Monday if General Pavkovic surrenders.

Full membership is unlikely, however, until Serbia turns over the tribunal's two most-wanted suspects, Ratko Mladic, the former commander of the Bosnian Serb Army, and Radovan Karadzic, the former leader of the Bosnian Serb government.

Conservatives, including Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, have long contended that it would be hard for Serbia to cooperate with the tribunal because of the strength of the highly nationalistic Serbian Radical Party, which has the largest number of seats in Parliament of any party. Nationalist parties emerged as the strongest in elections in neighboring Bosnia and Croatia in 2003.

But people seem to be realizing that nationalism will not bring them prosperity, analysts say. "The environment is different to what it used to be," Mr. Kopanja said.

"Karadzic and Mladic are less and less the heroes, and more and more of a burden to people psychologically and economically," he said.

Bogdan Ivanisevic, the director of Human Rights Watch in Serbia Montenegro and Bosnia, said, "The public has become more and more aware of the E.U. component in cooperation with The Hague."

Nationalism remains a vocal element of Serbian political life. Ms. Dulic-Markova was condemned after she said Serbia had squandered time in the 1990's in wars with its neighbors instead of undertaking major economic changes.

The government still calls the arrests of war crimes suspects "surrenders," which human rights groups say shows it is still ideologically opposed to the court's mission.

"Absolutely nothing in how the government is cooperating with The Hague tribunal would affect the way a person in the street thinks about war crimes," Mr. Ivanisevic said. Serbia's decision to cooperate with the tribunal, like Croatia's and Bosnia's Serb Republic before it, was a pragmatic one, he said, and while public opinion might be shifting, politicians were not yet ready to examine their country's past.


Anonymous said...

where are ratko and karadic and arkan?

they are needed as witnesses at the hague...

Anonymous said...

They are wanted as criminals not as witnesses.