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.
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.