MAKING THE ARREST
July 10, 1997
NATO peacekeepers killed an indicted Bosnian Serb war criminal after wounding a British solider, but they did arrest three others and delivered them to the War CrimesTribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. The arrests mark a sharp departure from the previous NATO policy of avoiding conflict with the warring parties. Charles Krause discusses the captures with Roy Gutman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for Newsday.
CHARLES KRAUSE: In the most dramatic move yet against alleged war criminals in Bosnia, NATO troops this morning captured three Bosnian Serbs and killed another. At least two of the men had been secretly indicted by the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. Today's operations took place in the Bosnian town of Prijedor, where Bosnian Serb troops removed thousands of Muslims during the early years of the fighting. Many of the Muslims were taken to secret prison camps like the one at Omarska, located near Prijedor, where they were held, tortured, and often killed. The camp's discovery in 1992 helped dramatize the Bosnian conflict for the outside world. Yesterday in Madrid, President Clinton was asked if and when NATO troops in Bosnia, known as SFOR, would take a more aggressive posture toward indicted war criminals, most notably Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
May 13, 1997:
Margaret Warner conducts a Newsmaker Interview with Bosnian Co-Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic.
May 12, 1997:
Departing NATO Supreme Commander General George Joulwan discusses the mission in Bosnia.
February 3, 1997:
Gaby Rado reports on the continued unrest in Serbia.
December 20, 1996:
Two Bosnian experts discuss the military and civilian efforts of SFOR.
September 16, 1996:
Richard Holbrooke discusses the Bosnian elections.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Bosnia.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We believe that Mr. Karadzic and all the other indicted people who have been accused of war crimes should be arrested and subject to trial. In terms of the SFOR members, themselves, clearly our mandate is to arrest people who had been accused of war crimes and turn them over for trial if that can be done in the course of fulfilling our other duties and if the commanders on the ground believe the risk is appropriate.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Today, Samuel Berger, President Clinton's national security adviser, traveling with the presidential party in Europe, said the raid was within the mandate of NATO forces.
SAMUEL BERGER, National Security Adviser: Under SFOR's mission, it may apprehend indicted war criminals encountered in the course of its duties and if the tactical situation permits. This was such a situation. SFOR forces regularly encountered these individuals in the vicinity of Prijedor, a township, as I said, in the British sector, both before and after issuance of the sealed indictment. SFOR concluded that they should detain these individuals. NATO political authorities agreed with that view.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Joining us now is Roy Gutman, and international security reporter at Newsday. In 1993, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Bosnia, including the discovery of the Omarska Camp. He's the author of the book Witness to Genocide and was in Bosnia most recently six weeks ago, traveling with Secretary of State Albright. Roy Gutman, welcome.
Tell me about the men who were seized today, beginning, if you would, with the police chief, Simo Drljaca.
ROY GUTMAN, Newsday: Well, Drljaca is a law school graduate. He wasn't very well known at the time he took over as chief of police. It was May 1992. The Serbs, with the help of the Yugoslav army, staged a kind of coup in this town. The town had a Muslim mayor, a Serb vice mayor, and the positions were divided among the various ethnic groups. Drljaca took over and with the support of other people and other factors really created a kind of reign of terror. They set up camps. There was the Omarska that you mentioned, Karaturn in Prijedor city limits, Trjnopole between the two, and he was a big burly man. He's not very well spoken, gruff in his manner, hardly a model police chief. And he basically was on this small committee of people who decided who would go to which camp, probably also what would happen to them then.
CHARLES KRAUSE: And another one of these--those who were seized, actually who was apparently captured alive and sent to the Hague today, Milan Kovacevic, now who was he?
ROY GUTMAN: Well, Kovacevic was the city manager, the equivalent of city manager in the city of Prijedor. I'm not sure if he's a doctor, himself, or--I think he does have a medical degree, and he was not actually known to be one of the crazy people. He was even trusted by many of the Muslims, but he too was on this inner committee of people who took control over Prijedor, and so he--you know, inevitably has played a direct role in the creation of the camps and everything that happened in them.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Now, you did not use the word "ethnic cleansing," but is that essentially what happened in that town of Prijedor?
ROY GUTMAN: It is the purest case there is because the population was about 50/50. I think the Serbs were less than half, in fact, and non-Serbs were in the majority. Basically, they went house to house, and either executed people on the spot, or took the men away into the--what were later called concentration camps, and really Omarska was a death camp. There were rapes. There was destruction. And ethnic cleansing is kind of a euphemism for--for general mayhem.
CHARLES KRAUSE: And it's your understanding from your reporting that these two men who were seized today were directly involved in what happened there.
ROY GUTMAN: Well, as an example, when I went there, I was not in Omarska. I wrote about Omarska at the beginning of August, but I was not there. I did it on the basis of testimony from survivors. When I went there in September and asked to go to Omarska and also for an explanation of what happened there--because I had amassed a lot of data on what I thought had happened there, what people thought had happened there, the people who sat down to answer and to justify everything were Kovacevic and Drljaca and also the new mayor of the town named Stakic. And they--and, in fact, Drljaca gave me a tour of the Omarska camp. I assume that other reporters had similar tours. So they were really--they took charge. They took responsibility for everything that happened there.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Now, there were two other--there were reports of two other Serbs who were arrested today. Do you have any idea who they were and what part they may have played?
ROY GUTMAN: I think that they may have been--I believe that Drljaca was arrested in a restaurant in the morning, where he was sitting with friends, and signaled in some way--this is what I heard from the State Department--that, you know, to defend him. And he, himself, fired the shot at the British soldier that--wounded a soldier, and the Brits then fired at Drljaca. I think these other two people were just probably in his bodyguard or were friends. I don't believe that they are indicted war criminals.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Do you consider today's operation to be a major change in U.S. and NATO policy with regard to these alleged war criminals?
ROY GUTMAN: You know it's funny. If you ask officials, they will say, well, no, there's no change in policy; this has always been the policy, no change in mandate. The words are the same. Of course, it's a major change. It signifies that NATO means business. They're putting teeth into their words. They've been in Bosnia for 18 months monitoring the movements of these people, watching them. They knew who they were. And now they're going to carry out that part of their mandate that they up until now have refused to. But this is a sea change also for NATO, itself. You know, it's like declaration of war on war criminals.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Would you expect that they will then go after Mr. Karadzic and also Gen. Mladic, who is the military or is the military leader of the Bosnian Serbs?
ROY GUTMAN: They are harder to get because the two of them have sizeable bodyguards, and unlike people like Drljaca, who just have a few friends around, and they're waiting for it, and they're prepared, and so, you know, it'll be a rather major operation. Mladic, moreover, is protected by--President Slobodan Milosevic. I think he's even told the Americans that he will do nothing to jeopardize Mladic, and Mladic has been reported moving around Belgrade in the last few days. But Karadzic is stuck in his chalet in the mountain village of Pale, which is near Sarajevo. And I would assume at a certain point they're going to have to go after him. You know, Karadzic has no official position now in the Serb entity, it's called Republica Serbska, but behind the scenes, he really dominates everything, and he blocks any kind of progress on Dayton, be it the arrest of war criminals, be it the return of refugees to their homes. So he's really been doing this, public enemy no. 1.
CHARLES KRAUSE: All right. I'm afraid we're going to have to leave it there, but Roy Gutman, thank you very much for joining us. Thank you.