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11 July 1997

Summary Justice

William Woodger explains how Operation Tango reveals who really calls the shots in the former Yugoslavia

Yesterday a NATO hit-squad of SAS soldiers killed former Bosnian Serb police chief Simo Drljaca outside his home near Prijedor. Drljaca's son and son-in-law were kidnapped at the same time. A second SAS team conned its way into a nearby hospital to arrest its director, Doctor Milan 'Mico' Kovacevic and spirited him and the other detainees away to The Hague. Summary justice, Western style. NATO's Operation Tango was immediately welcomed throughout Europe and hailed as proof that the peace promised in the Dayton Accord was slowly emerging.

The overbearing moralising of New Labour's Foreign Secretary Robin Cook making a statement in Downing Street set the tone for the unquestioning media. Cook said the two men were 'indicted war criminals' - what's more Drljaca was a 'notorious Bosnian Serb war criminal' - and that is what the media swallowed and have reproduced. On contacting the UN Tribunal in The Hague to find out more about the gory accusations against the men, I discovered a problem: there was no public indictment against either man, according to spokesman Christian Chartier. Was either on the list of those secretly indicted? No comment, from Chartier.

The hitch was only temporary. Later in the afternoon Chartier was trumpeting how the men had been indicted on 13 March 1997, in a 'sealed' (read secret) indictment. The indictment was transmitted to NATO's Stabilisation Force (S-For) - the 30,000 Western troops occupying Bosnia - but not to local law enforcement agencies who have legal jurisdiction over the areas where the men live and work. Chartier said this was because the War Crimes Tribunal hoped S-For would have an opportunity to arrest the men. This excuse seems flimsy when the attempted 'arrests' occur four months later.

Contrary to allegations, Drljaca and Kovacevic were on no recognised list of 'war criminals.' They do, however, along with at least 5,000 others, appear on various propaganda 'war criminal' lists. Journalists and human rights organisations have smeared these men, and many other Serbs, over a long period. The ITN film crew who visited Omarska and Trnopolje in August 1992 interviewed Kovacevic, and Channel 4 News presented this film as an admission of guilt. Another admission of guilt was offered by Ed Vulliamy, who interviewed Kovacevic in early 1996. A remark open to more than one interpretation was offered as 'evidence' of complicity in the Western view of the war (Serb aggressors, genocidal campaign, systematic rapes) and not of having been in Prijedor in 1992 and part of a civil war. Kovacevic's admission that a situation he expects historians will find difficult to explain for the next 50 years might be termed 'collective madness' is inverted so that Kovacevic instead admits his part in the plan.

A Human Rights Watch report from January 1997, 'The Unindicted: Reaping the Rewards of Ethnic Cleansing,' took the lead in the NGO-led clamour for action against 'war criminals,' including, from the title, those the UN hadn't got around to yet. The term 'unindicted war criminals' was added to 'indicted war criminals' as the sleight-of-tongue people use to pretend they haven't pre-judged 'war criminals'. It now seems clear that any Bosnian Serb who was part of the Prijedor Crisis Staff is also under secret indictment. Simple membership of the Crisis Staff now warrants charges of genocide.

In May this year, Dusan Tadic was found guilty of Crimes Against Humanity for beating people (LM 102, 'Put the war crimes tribunal in the dock'). Tadic was mobilised as a part-time policeman. The charges and the manner in which Tadic was found guilty indicate that any and all Serbs are regarded as war criminals. At the whim of the Tribunal, any Serb in a position of authority related to the SDS, the Bosnian Serb political party, can be charged with genocide, secretly, and killed if deemed necessary.

Will Radovan Karadzic be next on the list? Will he be killed in a hail of bullets while 'defending himself'? The lynch-mob is still out on that. In what might turn out to be his last interview as a free man, Radovan Karadzic said of the Tribunal 'they fear me because I am not going to defend myself. I am going to accuse'. NATO, S-For, the SAS, the International War Crimes Tribunal and every other western force involved in the former Yugoslavia should be in the dock - the recent course of international politics suggests we better not hold our breath.

Buy the current LM 102 to read the full text of the exclusive interview with Radovan Karadzic 'I accuse' and Helen Searls' expos of the reality behind the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

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