NATO Nabs Alleged War Criminal
Jan. 22, 1998
BIJELJINA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ In an American-led operation, peacekeepers went deep into hard-line Serb territory Thursday to detain a suspected war criminal who allegedly modeled himself on Adolf Hitler and is suspected of dozens of murders.
It was the first time American soldiers in Bosnia had arrested a war crimes suspect, although they have previously provided backup support.
President Clinton, who authorized the action, was woken up at 5:30 a.m. in Washington and told that the mission was successful.
Goran Jelisic, 29, was detained early Thursday after peace troops spotted him in Bijeljina, his hometown in northeastern Bosnia, said Maj. Louis Garneau, a NATO spokesman.
Bijeljina, in Serb-ruled territory 70 miles northeast of the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, is in an area patrolled by American and Russian troops.
The Belgrade-based Fonet news agency said Jelisic's wife, Ana, watched the arrest from a window of their 9th floor apartment. Jelisic was approaching a car when two soldiers snatched him, and trundled him into a van.
``It was awful, he fell down and yelled,'' she was quoted as saying. ``They tied him up and took him away.''
Dragan Milakovic, who runs a nearby hairdressing salon, said the suspect had been ``very quiet'' in the past few months, ``as if he knew what would happen.''
Other townsfolk, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Jelisic used to brag openly about his deeds when he moved to Bijeljina but later stopped.
The third arrest of war crimes suspects in Bosnia by NATO-led troops, Jelisic's detention was significant because it was the first to occur in the eastern half of the Serb substate sharing Bosnia with a Muslim-Croat federation.
Most Serbs in the eastern region support Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader who stepped down last year because of indictments by the war crimes tribunal.
Karadzic is Bosnia's No. 1 war crimes suspect, and Jelisic's arrest was at least an indirect warning that he, too, could be targeted, even though any force tackling Karadzic would have to deal with his well-armed bodyguards.
In another blow to Karadzic supporters, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic met Thursday with the pro-western Bosnian premier appointed by Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic, a Karadzic rival.
Milosevic continues to wield immense power in the Bosnian Serb substate, and his endorsement of Premier Milorad Dodik weakens Karadzic loyalists who do not recognize Dodik's government.
Jelisic was indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in July 1995. The indictment against him, and another camp official, Ranko Cesic, contains 77 counts, including one of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Jelisic, who referred to himself as ``Adolf'' in reference to Adolf Hitler, commanded the Luka prison camp near the northern town of Brcko in May 1992.
He is specifically accused of murdering 16 Muslims but also charged in the killings of ``countless detainees.''
The indictment described the Luka camp in chilling terms, saying detainees were ``systematically killed'' during a two-week period in May 1992.
``Almost every day during that time, the accused, often assisted by camp guards, entered Luka's main hangar where most detainees were kept, selected detainees for interrogation, beat them and then often shot and killed them,'' the indictment said. ``The accused ... usually shot detainees at close range in the head or back.''
Jelisic is the 20th Bosnian war crimes suspect in the custody of the tribunal based in The Hague, the Netherlands. He arrived there late Thursday.
The NATO-led peacekeepking force in Bosnia has been criticized for not taking a more active role catching suspected war criminals _ a job the top U.S. official for human rights said Thursday should be viewed as an important part of building peace.
Some involved in bringing peace to Bosnia had earlier insisted it would be ``destabilizing'' to capture war crimes suspects because they wield influence locally and their arrests would prompt Bosnians to reject the peace accord, said John Shattuck, the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights.
``That point of view I firmly believe has been discredited over the past two years,'' Shattuck added.
There is now increasing international support for putting human rights more in the forefront of efforts to rebuild Bosnia, Shattuck said.
``That ... includes very certainly bringing to justice Radovan Karadzic and others,'' Shattuck said at an international conference in Vienna on Bosnia's future