Bosnian Croats surrender to face war crimes trial

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The Independent Online
In a mass surrender sure to boost United Nations efforts to prosecute suspected war criminals, the top Bosnian Croat suspect and nine others accused of atrocities against Muslims turned themselves in yesterday.

Their surrender in return for assurances of a speedy trial was welcomed by the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal and international officials in Bosnia as a significant step forward in efforts to make peace stick.

But Croatian authorities, who still wield considerable influence in Bosnian Croat regions, had been put under heavy economic pressure to turn the men over for trial.

Having the suspects surrender saved the Croatian President Franjo Tudman the political embarrassment of having them arrested by Bosnian Croat authorities and extradited to The Hague.

The top suspect, Dario Kordic, proclaimed his "clear conscience before God and before the Croatian people" before boarding a Dutch military aircraft to The Hague to face trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Kordic was the leader of the Bosnian branch of President Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Union political party.

Along with General Tihomir Blaskic, who is standing trial in The Hague, Kordic is charged with commanding Bosnian Croat troops who rampaged through at least 14 towns in the Lasva Valley of central Bosnia, murdering and torturing hundreds of Muslims and torching homes.

Kordic and the nine others, all accused of taking part in the "ethnic cleansing" campaign, were placed in detention in a maximum-security prison outside The Hague. They say they plan to plead innocent at their arraignments tomorrow.

"The Bosnian and Croat leaders have finally accepted the responsibility to help turn in indicted war criminals," the United States Defense Secretary, William Cohen, said in Paris yesterday, hailing the surrender as "maybe a small step but a very important one symbolically."

"It should send a very clear message to the Serb and Bosnian Serb leadership that time is running out," Mr Cohen said.

-- AP

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