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Bosnia War Crimes Suspects Arrested

September 6, 2000

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ Police have arrested two Croat men suspected of belonging to a group that waged a 1993 killing spree in a Bosnian Muslim village during Bosnia’s war, an interior ministry official said Wednesday.

Ante Sliskovic, 50, and Tomo Vlajic, 35, were found hiding in the central Adriatic city of Zadar and arrested earlier this week, police spokesman Emil Bilic said.

Bilic said police were looking for two other men, Vlado Cosic and Pasko Ljubicic, who also are suspected of participating in the killing of more than 100 Muslims, including women and children, in the village of Ahmici in central Bosnia.

The four are not sought by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, so they likely will be prosecuted in Croatia. If there is a trial, it would be the first time Croatia tries it citizens for war crimes committed against Muslims in Bosnia.

Prime Minister Ivica Racan said the arrest ``proves that criminals will no longer be able to live freely and peacefully here.″

Racan’s government has cooperated with The Hague tribunal since taking power eight months ago. It acknowledged in May that the four, all members of the Bosnian Croat wartime militia, were given Croatian citizenship and fake identities during the authoritarian rule of late President Franjo Tudjman.

The arrest of the two men may help vindicate a Bosnian Croat army general who was convicted by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, earlier this year for taking part in the killings in Ahmici.

It is widely believed that Gen. Tihomir Blaskic, who was sentenced to 45 years in prison for ordering the ethnic purges that left hundreds of Muslim civilians dead, was framed by top Croat political officials.

One-time allies against Bosnian Serbs, Bosnia’s Croats and Muslims turned against each other in 1993 and fought a yearlong war for territory.

Many political analysts believe the conflict was ignited by secret plans by Tudjman and his nationalist party, then in power, to carve out territory for Bosnian Croats and join it with Croatia proper.

Croatian media have speculated that Tudjman’s government tried to use Blaskic as a scapegoat to cover up a separate chain of command that existed between certain soldiers or units and often functioned above the heads of military leaders.

Police had been searching for the three suspects since March, when Croatia’s new reformist government discovered documents in Tudjman’s archives that indicated a conspiracy between Tudjman’s government and the group to disguise events related to the Ahmici slaughter.

The documents are said to link the group, which was given secret identities by the state intelligence bureau, directly to war crimes.

Blaskic’s defense attorney, Ante Nobilo, said Wednesday the arrests could mean a breakthrough in his upcoming appeal before the tribunal in The Hague.

``The arrests can lead to Blaskic’s vindication if the true background and true order-issuing authorities are established,″ he said.

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