GENOCIDE SUSPECT, ZDRAVKO TOLIMIR, ARRESTED
THIRD MOST WANTED GENOCIDE SUSPECT, GENERAL ZDRAVKO TOLIMIR, ARRESTED FEW MILES AWAY FROM SREBRENICA
The United States Government offered $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of Zdravko Tolimir.
Tolimir, who was reported to have organized Gen Ratko Mladic’s escape from justice, was arrested after a major security sweep of the border region with helicopters and anti-terrorist units, according to the Serbian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not entitled to release the information before Tolimir is sent to the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. A Bosnian Serb spokeswoman said the arrest came as a result of a joint operation with Serbia.
“The whole action was the result of significant pressure from the outside,” said Natasa Kandic, head of Serbia’s Humanitarian Law Centre. “Nevertheless, it’s a step forward, and we can expect to see the arrests of other fugitives.”
Tolimir was a top aide to the Bosnian Serbs’ wartime military commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic, during the slaughter of about 8,000 Bosniaks in Srebrenica in 1995 — the worst single atrocity in Europe since World War II.
He was considered the third most wanted war crimes suspect still at large in the Balkans after Gen Ratko Mladic and Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic.
Rasim Ljajic, head of Serbia’s office for cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), said the detention showed a new determination on the part of Belgrade.
“Tolimir was considered the mastermind of the actions to shelter Mladic for a long time,” Rasim Ljajic told state television.
The E.U. has linked the resumption of talks on closer ties with Serbia to the arrest of war crimes suspects.
Olga Kavran, the spokeswoman for the chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor for the former Yugoslavia, said they were informed of Thursday’s arrest by Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik.
“We welcome the arrest of Gen. Tolimir … whom we consider responsible for genocide and other crimes in Srebrenica and the region,” Kavran said. “We hope that the remaining two charged with genocide, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, will be arrested soon.” Preparations are being made for his transfer to The Hague.
“We understand [he] has some health issues and we will try to assess what these issues are in order to make arrangements for his transportation to The Hague,” a tribunal spokesman told Reuters. Officials said the former general was ill, maybe with cancer.
“Former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are in Belgrade,” Olga Kavran told the Serbian daily Danas. Both men are indicted on two counts of genocide during the 1992-95 Bosnia war. Former Bosnian Serb political leader Karadzic has long been speculated to be in Russia, Bosnia or his native Montenegro.
Kavran said the tribunal had also passed on information to Serbian authorities regarding Mladic. Police raided a military boarding house in Belgrade on Tuesday night on a Hague tip-off, but did not find the former Bosnian Serb general.
The BBC’s Nicholas Walton in Sarajevo says the arrest of Gen Tolimir is an important breakthrough for those hunting other fugitives wanted in connection with the Bosnian War of the early 1990s.
As a ranking intelligence and security officer during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, Tolimir, 59, was charged in 2005 by the U.N. tribunal with genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, extermination, murder, persecution, forcible transfer and deportation, as well as murder in connection with the Srebrenica massacre.
The indictment against Tolimir alleges that, “with an intent to destroy a part of the Bosnian Muslim people as a national, ethnical, or religious group, … (he) killed members of the group by planned and opportunistic summary executions.”
The “large scale systematic murder,” the indictment says, began on July 13, 1995, and continued for days until the “entire Muslim population had been either removed or fled” from Srebrenica and the nearby enclave of Zepa by November 1995.
“Over 7,000 Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica had been murdered” by the Bosnian Serb forces, the indictment said.
The charges say that he “committed, planned, instigated, ordered, and otherwise aided and abetted in the planning, preparation, and execution of the crimes” against non-Serbs during the war, including in Srebrenica.
Both Gen Mladic and Mr Karadzic have been indicted for genocide over the killings in Srebrenica and the 43-month siege of Sarajevo, which both claimed close to 20,000 lives. The Siege of Sarajevo alone was the longest siege of any major capital in the history of modern warfare, lasting from April 5, 1992 to February 29, 1996.
Gen Tolimir was an intelligence officer and senior aide to Gen Mladic at the time of the massacre at Srebrenica, which was carried out by Bosnian Serb soldiers under Gen Mladic’s command.
Gen Tolimir is accused of helping to plan and carry out the murders, which have since been internationally recognised as genocide.
With his arrest, only five of the 161 people indicted by the UN tribunal remain at large, including Gen Mladic and Mr Karadzic.
Gen Tolimir is thought to have been one of the key figures helping his former commander to evade capture.
If so, he may provide important information about where the most wanted war crimes suspect is now hiding, our correspondent says.
The European Union welcomed Tolimir’s arrest, describing it as “an important step towards bringing to justice all remaining fugitives.”
“Full cooperation with the (U.N. war crimes tribunal) is not only an international obligation, but also a key step to achieve lasting reconciliation in the Western Balkans region,” EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in a statement.
Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor of the U.N. tribunal in The Hague welcomed the arrest of Tolimir and said she hoped the other two top fugitives, Mladic and former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic would be apprehended soon, the Serbian news agency Beta said.
According to the indictment, Tolimir was aware of the program aimed at expelling Muslims from Srebrenica and Zepa, and he willingly participated in the project. On July 9, 1995, when President Radovan Karadžic passed down an order to seize Srebrenica, the order was passed directly through Tolimir.
In Zepa, Tolimir told the Muslims that they must leave otherwise the Serbs of Bosnia would launch a military operation. The Bosnian Muslims refused to leave and, early on the morning of July 14, 1995, the command of the Bosnian Serbs launched an attack against the Zepa enclave.
Tolimir is being charged for acting in conjunction with other Bosnian Serb army and police officers in a joint criminal enterprise. He has been indicted for the forcible removal of women and children from the Srebrenica enclave, and the execution of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys in July 1995.