Austria Detains Ex-Bosnian General On Serb Warrant Alleging War Crimes

A Serbian colonel who defected to Bosnia's army at the start of the conflict between the two sides has been detained on a Serbian warrant and is awaiting a hearing on whether he should be extradited on suspicion of war crimes, Austrian officials said Friday.

FILE, In this June 23, 2010 photo, former General of the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina Jovan Divjak, in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Austrian officials say police have detained a former Bosnian general sought by Serbia for alleged war crimes. The Interior Ministry says Jovan Divjak was arrested on a Serbian warrant accusing him of participating in an attack that killed dozens of Yugoslav soldiers withdrawing from Sarajevo at the start of Bosnia's 1992-95 war.

VIENNA — A Serbian colonel who defected to Bosnia's army at the start of the conflict between the two sides has been detained on a Serbian warrant and is awaiting a hearing on whether he should be extradited on suspicion of war crimes, Austrian officials said Friday.

Jovan Divjak was taken into custody in Vienna Thursday night on arrival from a flight from Sarajevo, officials said. Serbia alleges his role in an attack that killed dozens of predominantly Serb Yugoslav soldiers withdrawing from the Bosnian capital at the start of Bosnia's 1992-95 war constitutes a war crime.

Divjak's case is particularly sensitive. After his defection, he was the only Serb to be made general in the mostly Bosniak Muslim forces fighting Serbs who were seeking to break away from multiethnic Bosnia at the start of the Bosnian war.

As well, his case has parallels to failed Serbian attempts last year to seek the extradition of former Bosnian leader Ejup Ganic from Britain on war crimes allegations rising from the same incident.

The accusations arise from actions in the chaotic opening days of the Bosnian war, when the country's capital was under siege and its president had been captured by the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army.

Bosnian army General Jovan Divjak speaks during an interview with Reuters in his office in Sarajevo in this September 1995 file photo. Austrian police arrested a Bosnian wartime army general late on March 3, 2011, at the Vienna airport on a warrant from Serbia which wants him to face war crimes charges, Austrian and Bosnian officials said. The Austrian Interior Ministry confirmed that a former Bosnian army general, whom they declined to name, has been handed over to judicial authorities to decide on conditions for his extradition to Serbia. The Bosnian Foreign Ministry and prosecutor's office identified the officer as Divjak, a former general of the Bosnian Muslim-dominated army. Picture taken September 1995.

Serbian prosecutors say that Ganic, who took over as Bosnia's acting president on May 2, 1992, personally commanded a series of attacks on illegal targets across the city, including an officers' club, a military hospital and what the Serbs describe as a medical convoy making its way out of town.

While the exact contents of the warrant against Divjak were not made public, officials said it was based on his alleged role in the same incident. Serbia's justice ministry said Friday it will seek his extradition.

The U.N. war crimes tribunal has ruled that there were no war crimes committed in that clash and a London judge last year dismissed the Serbian case against Ganic, saying the officers' club was a valid target and that the medical convoy was in fact packed with army vehicles and military equipment. As for the hospital, the judge said it was unlikely to have been hit on the day Ganic took charge.

In Bosnia, Milorad Dodik, president of the Bosnian Serb mini republic that borders on the Bosniak-Croat federation making up the country's other half, welcomed Divjak's detention.

"He should have been arrested a long time ago," Dodik told Serbia's state Tanjug news agency.

As deputy chief of staff, Divjak, now 73, was the third highest ranked officer in the Bosnian army during the war — the bloodiest of a series of conflicts marking Yugoslavia's disintegration. A strong believer in a multiethnic Bosnia, Divjak said after the war that his decision to defect from the Yugoslav army and join the other side "was the only moral thing to do."

About 100 Sarajevans gathered in front of the Austrian Embassy around midnight Thursday to protest his detention. New protests were scheduled Friday and Saturday.

The Canadian Press