"Kladuška Daddy" arrested in Croatia
Wartime Bosnian Muslim separatist leader Fikret Abdić was arrested Thursday in Rijeka, Croatia, to face charges of war crimes against civilians and prisoners of war in northwestern Bosnia in 1993 and 1994.
The arrest is the first since Bosnia and Croatia recently agreed to co-operate on war crimes cases. A Bihać court had been seeking Abdić's extradition on war crimes charges since 1996, but Abdić had since fled to Croatia, whose constitution does not allow its citizens to be extradited. But as per a new agreement between the two countries' governments, the Bihać court evidence will be used when Abdić comes to trial in Croatia.
Abdić, who had been a prominent businessman in the former Yugoslavia, led the only Muslim-Muslim fighting in the Bosnian war. In 1993, he broke away from Alija Izetbegović's Bosnian government, declared his own "Autonomous Province of Western Bosnia" around Bihać, and took up arms against the Bosnian Army. His thousands of followers called him "Kladuški Babo" (Kladuška Daddy), because he organised the rebellion from a castle near the town of Velika Kladuša.
The Bosnian Army retook the area in August 1994 after bloody battles, but Abdić remained in the area, his forces attacking Bihać from one side while Bosnian Serb and Croatian Serb forces attacked it from the others, until NATO and the UN created a tiny "safe area" around the town in November 1994.
Oslobođenje printed part of the 1996 indictment, which charged Abdić with the murders of three prisoners of war at a POW camp for Bosnian Army soldiers. He has also been charged with the indiscriminate shelling of Velika Kladuša, Bihać and Bosanska Krupa in November 1994, which left at least 124 civilians dead and 345 injured. The paper reported the Rijeka court indictment Thursday, including speculation on Abdić's whereabouts and comments from Abdić loyalists.
"We believe in an independent Croatian court (being able to judge Abdić fairly), but if Fikret goes on trial, many others he will talk about in court can pack their suitcases for The Hague. Among the first on that suitcase-packing list is Mr Alija Izetbegović," said the vice-president of Abdić's Democratic Peoples' Union (DNZ), Rifet Dolić, on Wednesday.
No depleted uranium contamination in BiH
BiH is not contaminated by depleted uranium, and the illnesses and deaths of Portuguese soldiers who had served in BiH have nothing to do with depleted uranium—were the findings of a Portuguese expert team that had investigated Bosnia in January.
International news media quickly jumped on a story this past winter involving the cancers and deaths of NATO soldiers who had done tours of duty in both Bosnia and Kosovo. Headlines screamed "Balkans Syndrome," and NATO was denounced from all corners for using depleted uranium ammunition during air strikes on Bosnian Serbs in 1995 and on Yugoslav forces in Kosovo in 1999.
The Portuguese team's findings, while giving BiH a clean bill of health concerning uranium, stated that the radioactive element Cesium-137 was the only "non-natural" element found during the investigation, reported Nezavisne Novine Wednesday. The team said the Cesium-137 they found was caused by nuclear weapons testing and by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident.
"That does not represent an increased radioactive health risk," the team report was quoted in the paper. "Food from BiH markets does not present a greater radioactive risk than the food produced in Portugal."
More BiH Embassy-Vienna scandal reported
Former BiH Ambassador to Austria Hadžo Efendić handed out 360 diplomatic and official passports to regular people in 1995 and 1996, and 2700 BiH passports disappeared from the Embassy in Vienna at the same time, Oslobođenje reported Sunday. The paper's anonymous source said the passports were sold for between DEM (German marks) 2000 - 5000 (USD 870 - 2170) apiece.
"It was, however ... on the basis of the special merits of fighting for the country," said the source, adding that the passports and documents were sold to former-Yugoslav citizens and, occasionally, to foreigners involved with donations or weapon-dealings. The source also said then-Ambassador Efendić knew all about it.
While there is no doubt that not all BiH embassies abroad have been squeaky-clean in their dealings (note previous news about former BiH Ambassador to the UN Muhamed Šacirbegović, under whose patronage millions of dollars disappeared from embassy accounts), the Oslobođenje report could not be confirmed because of the anonymity of the source, and the fact that the article does not mention why a 1995 Interior Ministry investigation into the Vienna embassy was not made public.
And in other news...
- Reconstruction of the famous 16th-century bridge in Mostar began on Thursday 7 June. Stari most (the Old Bridge) was built in 1566, when Bosnia was under Ottoman rule, and in the 20th century it had been protected as a UNESCO World Heritage monument—until it was destroyed by Bosnian Croat shelling in November 1993. The Turkish Yapi Merkezi company is rebuilding the bridge's foundations with money from the World Bank and the governments of Italy, Holland and Turkey. Pieces of the original bridge dredged from the Neretva River are planned to be used in the reconstruction.
- The trial of six men charged with assassinating FBiH Deputy Interior Minister Jozo Leutar in March 1999 began in Sarajevo on Thursday. Ivan Andabak, Dominik Ilijašević, Zoran Bašic, Željko Ćosić, Jadranko Bajkuša and Marijo Miličević face charges of criminal terrorism for their alleged involvement in the 16 March car-bombing that cost Leutar his life on 28 March. Two of the six are being tried in absentia—Andabak is currently serving time in a Rijeka jail on drug-related charges and Miličević is still a fugitive.
High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch decided Wednesday that the special relations agreement which the Republika Srpska (RS) and Yugoslavia signed in March did not threaten any of BiH's constituent peoples. Muslim and Croat members of the RS Constitutional Commission had forwarded their complaints about the agreement to Petritsch, saying that the agreement would benefit Serbs only and undermined BiH sovereignty.
Petritsch said the agreement did not specifically discriminate against non-Serbs. He has also said his office did not find that the agreement would undermine BiH sovereignty or territorial integrity. His office, the OHR, will be consulted when the agreement's annexes are created and will monitor their implementation.
- American diplomat Robert Beecroft has been appointed new OSCE-BiH head following the recent retirement of former head Robert Barry, who had led the mission since 1998. Beecroft has several years of experience in Bosnia and has been with the US Foreign Service for 30 years.
Beth Kampschror, 8 June 2001
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