Outcry as Serbia demands handover of Srebrenica’s Muslim commander

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Families of the thousands of Bosnian Muslims massacred at Srebrenica reacted with outrage Thursday over the arrest of former Bosnian Muslim commander Naser Oric on a war crimes warrant from Serbia.

Oric led the Bosnian Muslim forces in Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia, where Bosnian Serb forces slaughtered almost 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in mid-July 1995.

“What is happening, one month before the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, is shameful,” said Munira Subasic, president of the Mothers of Srebrenica victims’ association. “The arrest is purely political.”

“By demanding his arrest now, at a time when we, the mothers, are at our most fragile, Belgrade wants to divert attention from the anniversary of the genocide,” added Subasic, who lost 20 members of her family in the killings, including her husband and son.

Oric was arrested Wednesday in the Geneva region and is in detention pending extradition to Serbia, the Swiss justice ministry said Thursday.

He was taken into custody at the Thonex-Vallard crossing between Switzerland and France following a request submitted by Serbian authorities on February 3, it said.

Oric was heading to Geneva with a delegation invited by the city to participate in several events to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the massacre, Swiss newspaper La Tribune de Geneve reported.

– Double jeopardy? –

Oric said he would contest his extradition, the ministry said, adding that it would now ask the Serbian authorities to submit a formal extradition request within the 18-day period stipulated in the European Convention on Extradition.

“The Serbian authorities suspect that, between 1992 and 1995, Oric and other members of the Bosnian Muslim forces repeatedly attacked Serbian villages in the Srebrenica region, to drive out the civilian Serbian population with a campaign of intimidation, torture and murder,” a statement said.

Serbia accuses 48-year-old Oric, and four other people, of committing war crimes in July 1992 in Zalazje near Sarajevo in which nine people were killed.

Oric commanded the Bosnian Muslim forces in Srebrenica, which was flooded by thousands of Muslim refugees in 1992 and surrounded by Bosnian Serb forces.

When Srebrenica became a UN enclave, Oric and his men continued to carry out raids on nearby villages, angering the Bosnian Serbs.

Finally on July 11, 1995, Srebrenica was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces who executed an estimated 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys and threw their bodies into mass graves.

In 2006, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found Oric guilty of failing to fulfil his duty as a superior officer and preventing the murder and mistreatment of Serbian prisoners in Srebrenica and sentenced him to two years in prison.

Two years later the Appeals Chamber of the ICTY acquitted him of all charges on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

Serge Brammertz, the ICTY prosecutor, told reporters that under the court’s rules “no one can be convicted twice on the same facts.”

“If these are the same (facts), evidently the (Swiss) authorities would not be able to continue” Oric’s extradition, he added.