Bosnian leader was suspected of war crimes

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The Independent Online

Prosecutors in The Hague said yesterday that the former Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic was under investigation for war crimes, just as he was about to be buried in Sarajevo.

The announcement came hours before more than 100,000 people braved driving rain for the funeral of Mr Izetbegovic, 78, described by Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, the international community's high representative to Bosnia, as "the father of his people".

At the United Nations tribunal on the former Yugo-slavia, Florence Hartmann, spokeswoman for the chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, saidMr Izetbegovic was "a suspect and under investigation". But the inquiries were halted when he died on Sunday. No details were given about what crimes Mr Izetbegovic was suspected of, and the prosecutor had not amassed enough evidence in his lifetime to issue an indictment.

Mr Izetbegovic was seen in the West as a moderate who led Bosnia's Muslims when they and Bosnian Croats voted for independence from Yugoslavia in 1992, sparking a civil war with Bosnian Serbs. Mr Izetbegovic, as commander of Bosnian forces, was probably being investigated for his "command responsibility" for atrocities committed by Bosnian soldiers - similar to the argument against Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav president who is on trial.

Serb officials did not attend the funeral and the Bosnian Serb Republic's opposition leader, Milorad Dodik, said the former president was responsible for wartime atrocities against Serbs and Croats. The Serb Republic sent a dossier of alleged war crimes evidence to the tribunal in 2001.

One western diplomat said: "We are dealing with a remarkable wartime leader who was in power at the time of a war renowned for its brutality and breaches of human rights."

That was a theme echoed by Lord Ashdown yesterday. He praised the former president for choosing tolerance, restraint and inclusiveness. Mr Izetbegovic was, he said, "the person who did more than any other to ensure today the survival of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina". Mr Izetbegovic was buried alongside hundreds of Muslims who defended the capital when it was besieged by the Serbs in the war.