Latest arrests increase pressure on Serbs to hand over war criminals

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The arrest of three Bosnian Muslims accused of war crimes has increased pressure on the Bosnian Serbs to surrender to the tribunal at The Hague the two most wanted indictees still at large, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic.

The Muslim-dominated government in Sarajevo detained two Muslim generals and a colonel on Thursday night – one day after the war crimes tribunal convicted a Bosnian Serb general, Radislav Krstic, 53, of genocide over his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

The court's indictment of the three Muslims and the first-ever genocide conviction in the former Yugoslavia are a sign of prosecutors' determination to bring war crimes committed by all three ethnic parties in the 1992-1995 conflict to book.

The Croats and the Serbs have consistently accused the tribunal of bias against their co-nationals. The latest arrests suggest that the court has recognised the fact that although the Bosnian Muslims were normally the victims, they are not exempt from the tribunal's workings

Generals Mehmed Alagic and Enver Hadzihasanovic are the highest-ranking Muslims to be arrested on war crimes charges. They are accused of committing crimes against ethnic Croats in central Bosnia, the scene of a messy, cruel struggle for overall control between the two ethnic groups in 1992 and 1993.

Most observers believe the involvement of foreign Muslim volunteers, the so-called "mujahadeen", added a confusing and vicious element to the battle for supremacy in the strategic Lasva valley area.

The tribunal used the Krstic verdict to issue fresh demands for the surrender of Karadzic and Mladic over the Srebrenica massacre and the bombardment of Sarajevo. The Bosnian Serb parliament recently approved a draft law on co-operation with the tribunal, but the authorities have not arrested any indictees on their territory.

The 46-year sentence handed down to General Krstic will be unwelcome news for the Serbs' former overall supremo, Slobodan Milosevic, who was indicted over the bloodshed in Kosovo in 1999 and handed over early last month. The Chief Prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, has said she is preparing further indictments against Milosevic for Bosnia that may include genocide charges.