Indicted Serbs spurn UN war crimes tribunal

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The Hague (Agencies) - The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal yesterday indicted 21 Serbs for alleged war crimes, but a Tribunal official immediately raised doubts whether more than one of them would come to trial.

The indictments served by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia accused 19 suspects of war crimes against prisoners in the Omarska detention camp in the Prijedor region of north-west Bosnia. Two were charged with atrocities at Omarska and other prison camps. The victims were all Bosnian Muslims or Croats.

Only one of the accused, Dusan Tadic - under arrest in Germany as a suspected war criminal - is outside Serb-held Bosnia. Bosnian Serb leaders reject the tribunal's jurisdiction.

"At this point we have no reason to anticipate that there will be any significant co-operation in terms of surrendering individuals," Graham Blewitt, Tribunal deputy prosecutor, said.While the Tribunal cannot try suspects in absentia, it can hold public hearings on the charges. Mr Blewitt admitted Mr Tadic was the only suspect likely to stand trial.

A law clearing the way for Mr Tadic's surrender to the Tribunal is expected to pass the German parliament in mid-March. He is charged in one of the most gruesome incidents to be publicised from the Bosnian conflict, the forcible castration of one Muslim prisoner by another in Omarska - a notorious Bosnian Serb camp whose inmates were seen on internationally-distributed film footage.

The Omarska camp commander, Zeljko Meakic, is charged with genocide. The rest were accused of crimes against humanity, violations of the law or customs of war and breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions on Protection of Civilians In Time of War.

Set up by the UN Security Council in 1993, the Tribunal is an attempt to focus world opinion on the only instance of alleged genocide in Europe since the Nazi exterminations of Jews and gypsies in the Second World War. The Tribunal is patterned after the post-war trials at Nuremberg and Tokyo. But those tribunals were organized by the victors, with most major suspects in custody.

The Yugoslav Tribunal has little chance of bringing atrocity suspects to book. If a state refuses to comply with the arrest warrant, there is little the Tribunal could do. An international warrant could be issued, branding the suspect an "international fugitive." Arrest warrants were forwarded to the Bosnian Serb administration headquartered in Pale and in Tadic's case, to Germany.

"I am not familiar with the list," Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic said yesterday.

n Zagreb - The failure of Nato reconnaissance planes to detect at least two flights near Tuzla air-base in Bosnia at the week-end, possibly used to supply Bosnian troops, has prompted concern among UN staff and speculation that the alliance is unwilling to police the no-fly zone, writes Emma Daly.