Bosnia divided over war crimes charges against Muslim general
Serbs angry as Bosniak war hero Atif Dudakovic is freed from custody
Milorad Dodik, the nationalist president of Bosnia’s Serb-run region Republika Srpska, has described as “a farce” the decision to release a Bosnian Muslim general accused of war crimes. Photograph: Elvis Barukcic/AFP/Getty Images
Bosnian Muslims rallied in support of a former general who faces war crimes charges on Monday, while Bosnian Serb leaders denounced a court’s decision to free him from pre-trial custody.
Gen Atif Dudakovic and 12 of his ex-comrades were detained on Friday for atrocities allegedly committed against ethnic Serbs and Bosnian Muslims, who are also known as Bosniaks, during Bosnia’s 1992-5 war.
All the accused were members of the Bosnian army’s 5th Corps operating in the northwestern Bihac area, where in 1994 and 1995 they allegedly killed more than 250 Bosnian Serb civilians and captured soldiers, and Bosniaks who were part of a wartime rebel movement that defied Sarajevo’s rule.
The state court in Sarajevo freed the Bosniaks on Sunday, infuriating Bosnian Serb politicians who claim that non-Serbs receive preferential treatment in national and international legal cases relating to the wars that destroyed Yugoslavia.
Milorad Dodik, the nationalist president of Bosnia’s Serb-run region Republika Srpska, called the decision “a farce”.
“It is clear that Bosnia’s judiciary is under constant pressure and influence of Bosniak political and religious elites, and that, by compromising prosecutors and judges who work on cases like this one, they usually achieve either an acquittal or the non-processing of suspects,” Bosnia’s N1 television channel quoted him as saying.
Mladen Ivanic, the Bosnian Serb member of a tripartite state presidency that also includes a Croat and a Bosniak, said the men’s release was “catastrophic”.
“But the trial will follow, so let’s see what that will be like,” he added.
In Bihac and other Bosnian towns however, hundreds of Bosniaks joined rallies on Monday organised by war veterans’ groups to show support for Gen Dudakovic, whom many Bosniaks regard as a hero who protected them from Serb aggression.
“Commander Dudakovic and the 5th Corps did not attack anyone, anywhere... but defended themselves here,” Nedzad Ajnadzic of the Bosnian army association said, according to the country’s Dnevni Avaz newspaper.
Senior Bosniak politicians also criticised the detention of Gen Dudakovic and his co-accused, arguing that there was no need to arrest people who had always co-operated with prosecutors during a long-running investigation into wartime events.
“The arrest of the commander, general Atif Dudakovic, and other members of the 5th Corps of the Bosnian army is an unnecessary humiliation for people who have...been available to investigators and regularly replied to all of their calls,” Bakir Izetbegovic, the Bosniak member of the country’s presidency, said in a statement.
Prosecutors argued, unsuccessfully, that the men should be kept in custody to reduce the risk of witness intimidation in the case, which is based on interviews with more than 100 witnesses and video, documentary and forensic evidence; Gen Dudakovic (64) has called the footage fake and the case politically motivated.
In a war that killed about 100,000 people and displaced more than two million, the vast majority of victims were Bosniaks. Wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief Ratko Mladic have both been jailed by a United Nations court for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.