Monday, March 01, 2010

Ganic Arrest Shows That Serbia Remembers The Past, Too

A former senior Bosnian politician, Ejup Ganic, has been arrested at Heathrow Airport over alleged war crimes. A warrant for his extradition had been issued by Serbia, in relation to an attack on Yugoslav Army forces in Sarajevo at the start of the 1992-95 war. Mr Ganic has appeared in court, and it's now up to Serbia to produce evidence supporting its extradition request before anything more can happen.

First, the incident itself. Back in 1992, when Bosnia declared independence and was suddenly at war with what remained of Yugoslavia, one early problem was the presence of Yugoslav Army soldiers who had been based in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo. A deal was agreed allowing them to be escorted out of the city by UN peacekeepers to a nearby Serb-controlled area. But hours before this was due to happen, rumours spread that the Bosnian Muslim political leader Alija Izetbegovic had been arrested by Bosnian Serb forces. Bosnian Muslims then ambushed the Yugoslav Army column on Sarajevo's Dobrovoljacka Street.

That much is more or less agreed on. But, as always when discussing the Balkan War, there are differences of opinion about the numbers. Serbia claims more than 40 soldiers were killed, the Bosnians say it was much less. Serbia also alleges that some of those dead soldiers had been wounded in the initial ambush, and were executed later. The charge facing Mr Ganic is that he helped organise this, something he denies. He's the most senior of 19 Bosnian officials who were recently charged by a Serbian court over the incident.

We don't know what evidence Serbia has got, so it's difficult to say whether Mr Ganic or anybody else will ever stand trial. But what we can say is that Serbia is doing its best to correct the record of history a bit. With the war crimes case against ex-Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic resuming in The Hague today, Serbia is taking the opportunity to remind us that it wasn't the only side which did bad things during the war. Just as importantly, political and judicial leaders in Belgrade want to remind their own public that they've not forgotten about events which remain controversial and painful for many Serbs. Serbia is fed up being the villain.

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