A member of Bosnia’s war-time presidency, Ejup Ganic, was arrested in London on Monday at the request of the Serbian authorities, officials told Balkan Insight.
Ganic was arrested at London’s Heathrow airport as he was preparing to return to Sarajevo, spokesman for Bosnia’s Foreign Ministry, Zlatan Burzic, told Balkan Insight.
The arrest followed a request submitted by Serbia late on Sunday, alleging Ganic’s responsibility for war crimes related to an attack by Bosnian troops against a column of Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, troops in Sarajevo at the start of Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, Burzic said.
Ganic appeared at a London court and has been remanded in custody until March 29th.
“Serbian authorities must now provide full papers to support their extradition request before a date can be fixed for an extradition hearing,” a British Government statement said . “A judge will then consider whether there are any bars to the extradition.”
Damir Arnaut, an advisor to Bosniak (Bosnian Member) of Bosnia’s presidency Haris Silajdzic told Balkan Insight: “We will do everything in our power to secure his provisional release on Tuesday morning and to make sure that he is not extradited to Serbia.”
Arnaut said Serbia’s extradition request was a “direct attack against Bosnia’s sovereignty…and continuation of Belgrade’s policy from 18 years ago.”
Reacting to the news late on Monday evening, Ivo Komsic, a Croat member of Bosnia’s wartime presidency told local media that “members of Bosnia’s [wartime] presidency defended this country against aggression.”
“This [arrest] is an attempt to show that defence against aggression is a crime and it is shocking that respected members of the international community, such as Great Britain, are taking part in it.”
“This shows that some important members of the international community that have great influence in our country want to…equalise the blame” for what happened in Bosnia during the war, he added.
Mirko Pejanovic, a Serb member of Bosnia’s wartime presidency, also expressed his concern over the British Government’s move.
“If this situation escalates further…it could lead to deterioration of inter-ethnic relations within Bosnia and to further deterioration of the situation in the country,” said.
Ganic’s daughter, Emina, told local media that Serbia was seeking her father “on the basis of evidence that had already been dismissed by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague”.
“We are convinced that my father will return to Sarajevo soon and that he will not be extradited to Serbia,” she said.
Last year, the Serbian state prosecutor issued arrest warrants for Ganic and 18 other top Bosnian officials over the attack by Bosnian troops against a column of the former Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA in Sarajevo at the start of Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.
In April 1992, after Bosnia declared independence from former Yugoslavia, Bosnian Serb forces backed by JNA troops and artillery begun their 43-month siege of Sarajevo.
In May 1992, Bosnian authorities agreed with the then Belgrade controlled Yugoslav military to allow safe passage to the JNA troops that remained stationed in Sarajevo.
However, the convoy of retreating troops led by UN peacekeepers was attacked by the Bosnian army on May 2nd and Serbian authorities claim that more than 40 Yugoslav soldiers and officers were killed and more than 70 wounded in the incident.
Sarajevo has previously dismissed Belgrade’s indictments as illegal, arguing that Serbia was not authorised to bring charges against Bosnian citizens for war crimes committed on Bosnian soil.
After Belgrade issued the arrest warrants, Bosnia’s security ministry complained to Interpol. In reaction, Interpol decided not to distribute the warrants. The organisation has since changed its rules, making it impossible for countries to issue war crimes arrest warrants for citizens of other countries if their home country does not consent.
British Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Michael Tatham, responding to critisism over Ganic’s detention, said that Ganic’s detention was based on an extradition treaty signed between the UK and Serbia, and was purely a matter for the courts.
Ganic’s arrest was “in no way any kind of diplomatic or political statement by the British government, or any point of view by the British government on past events,” said Tatham.
“This is [just] the UK authorities following their legal obligations,” he said.