bosnia report
New Series No. 15/16 March - June 2000
 
Excuse me, may we arrest you?
by Chuck Sudetic

Mr Sudetic, in an article published in Atlantic Monthly you accused the French government of obstructing the arrest of war criminals in Bosnia, particularly the `big fish'. How do you reconcile this with the arrest of Krajisnik?

First of all, everything I shall say in this interview concerns the situation up to the end of January, when I wrote my article. The recent turn-about in French politics is a very good sign and those French soldiers who arrested Krajisnik deserve respect and big thanks for their actions and the risks they took. Regarding the previous French policy, I can tell you how I came to that conclusion, or what I was told by those with whom I spoke in the months preceding my story. I spoke off the record with representatives of the French government at the start of December. Some of my interviewees were people involved in taking decisions to arrest war criminals. They said that `little fish' did not represent any kind of political problem - this was just an excuse - and that their arrest represented a purely military problem. This refers to the question of soldiers' safety, the possibility of fatalities and the like (in fact, the arrest of those little fish began only a week after my talk). But, as was explained to me, the arrest of `big fish' was a problem for the French President and government. This problem, according to my interviewees, was serious because of a major weakness in the current French set-up: the so-called cohabitation government.

Cohabitation is a French concept meaning that the President belongs to one party while the government is in the hands of another. The current French Socialist government runs the ministries through which President Chirac, who belongs to the Gaullists or right-oriented party, has to function. Sensitive fields such as state security, foreign relations and nÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ ational defence are constitutionally in the hands of the President. For Chirac to be able to function, he has to employ ministries that are in the hands of parties opposed to his. In order that this system not result in a collapse, he has to have a consensus or modus vivendi with the Socialists. Now he has a modus vivendi. This means that nobody will speak publicly about these sensitive proposals and that there is a very small number of people who are involved in the reaching of decisions relating to them.

Why is the arrest of war criminals in some faraway Bosnia such a sensitive issue?

The question of arresting war criminals in Bosnia is sensitive for a number of reasons. One is that French policy towards Bosnia, from the start of the collapse of Yugoslavia, has resulted in numerous shameful incidents, relationships and interventions. For example, the decision of General Janvier not to seek air-strikes to save Srebrenica; negotiations, and maybe agreements, between French and Serbian leaders for the freeing of four French pilots in 1995; economic links between the French and the Serbs; and, most disgraceful of all, the links between French and Serb intelligence services that resulted in the resignation of the French spy chief in December. Were the Gaullists and Socialists to begin to accuse one another over such occurrences, it would result in a quarrel that nobody wants. On account of cohabitation, there are very few people in the government who have any kind of involvement with the arrest of war criminals. This is such a sensitive issue that everyone is afraid of scandal, so much so that a fear exists that the government itself might break up over this question. Nobody wants that.

In that context, how do you interpret the arrest of Krajisnik in the French sector?

Over the past four or five weeks, pressure on the French to take certain measures has been enormous. There are several factors related to this. Kosovo is one of them. The commanding officer of KFOR, a German general, has sent - I can now reveal to you - a `private' letter to a number of addresses in which he expressed dissatisfaction with the behaviour of the French in Mitrovica. When a German general expresses dissatisfaction with the behaviour of French military forces under his command, then it is a serious matter for the French government, which needs the British and the Germans as allies for the formation of a European defence force, which is one of the main goals of the current French government and president.

What other factors increased the pressure on the French?

The Americans have obviously been unhappy with the French leaders. General Clark's Staff is seeking the arrest of all the accused. Clark believes that SFOR will not be able successfully to complete its task while criminals walk the streets of Foca, Visegrad, Srebrenica, Zvornik and Doboj. Every general has to be possessed by the need for success in his task of the moment. How will SFOR ever be disbanded if there is no return of refugees, if there is no reconstruction, if laws do not function? So long as the criminals are free, there will be no return of refugees. Who will give money to Visegrad if Milan Lukic there demands his cut? Where is the law if mass-murderers are free to stroll along the Drina with their girlfriends? Clark knows this. He too has viewed the French as an obstacle standing between him and his goals. For that reason he has increased the pressure on the French.

Can we view the arrest of Krajisnik as a bit of `strategic camouflage'? When I ask you this, I am referring to the possibility that Krajisnik's departure for The Hague once again postpones the arrest of Karajdzic and Mladic?

Why this has occurred to the French just now, I do not know. I cannot say what they think. But I can say this: my sources tell me that the warrant for Krajisnik's arrest, as I am sure you know, was not issued until 21 February of this year. Carla Del Ponte herself sought that warrant in January and gave her teamÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ very little time to complete it. Certainly Del Ponte, who is still at the start of her mandate, did not know very much about Momcilo Krajisnik. My sources inform me that there was an intervention as a result of which Del Ponte initiated the process. We know that there was a meeting between Chirac and Carla Del Ponte at The Hague on 29 February, and that they spoke one-to-one, without the presence of their collaborators. My sources confirm that after that meeting Chirac changed policy.

In the meantime your article appeared which so annoyed the Quai d'Orsay?

Yes, but the French had already known since the start of December that this text would appear. Of course I shall not be the one to claim this text had any influence, but there are people who do say so.

Is it possible that all the French indolence up till now in the arrest of war criminals can be interpreted as fear that their own high-ranking figures will appear before the court in The Hague, above all General Janvier?

No. Among the accused, no. But French functionaries have told me that their government and president are afraid that the lawyers of the war criminals could summon French officers and functionaries as witnesses for the defence, which could lead to a political conflict at the highest level in France.

Does this mean that internal factors dictate the French attitude toward the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and Slobodan Milosevic?

That is the case. And the fear, my sources tell me, is of the following kind: it is not so dangerous that Frenchmen may have to go to The Hague to explain French policy and events on the ground in Bosnia, but what is extremely dangerous is that Karadzic and Mladic might provoke a scandal by their statements to the court.

And Krajisnik?

About his background as a war criminal I don't know much. He was involved in political questions, but I think that Karadzic and Mladic were much more involved. Krajisnik was a mafia leader, administrator and profiteer, while Karadzic and Mladic took the decisions.

Can you, on the basis of these hypotheses about Krajisnik, estimate whether the day of the arrest of the criminal `dream team' is drawing closer or receding?

Maybe the capture of Krajisnik is a preliminary to the arrest of Karadzic. I'm not sure to what point it will go. The French have told me they are afraid that Karadzic, Mladic and Milosevic, i.e. the biggest fish, might say all sorts of things while sitting in the dock at The Hague. The prosecutors at The Hague are ready to go to trial against those three, and the French are afraid of a possible spectacle. That team at The Hague is a very good team, but it is a big question whether it is good enough to conduct such a trial.

Has the former chief prosecutor to the court at The Hague explicitly told you that France is the stumbling-block to the arrests?

In very diplomatic terms Louise Arbour told me that there is no great desire in either Washington or Paris for the arrest of the biggest fish.

How, therefore, do you interpret the fact that the State Department has offered a reward of five million dollars for the arrest of Radovan, Ratko and Slobodan?

That is a very fine gesture. Have they already given anybody any money? Where are all those famous posters? In any eventuality, the background to the warrants for those three is the following: if somebody else arrests them, that means that the Americans don't have to. Of course, in Washington there are people and institutions that are strongly disposed toward the arrest of war criminals. Above all General Clark and some officials in the State Department.

Who is against the arrests?

My sources tell me that the White House is against. They will not take the risk. Who knows what Karadzic could say at The Hague, who knows everything that Holbrooke told Milosevic, what general Janvier told Mladic and Karadzic, what they were told by Akashi or by the other spies and diplomÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ ats. After all, some of those I have mentioned knocked Easter eggs together with war criminals up in Pale.

Does this all not suggest that the arrest of the three most responsible will not take place?

I personally believe, it is my estimate, that a watershed has already been reached. The arrest of Krajisnik is no guarantee that the same will happen with Karadzic; however, he certainly slept last night much less peacefully than the night before.

Who within the French government pyramid is most disposed towards the arrest of war criminals, and who is resolutely opposed?

I believe that the French Army, or more precisely the military command, was in favour of arresting. As time went by, however, officers of that way of thinking grew ever weaker and more isolated, until they no longer even represented for such a solution to the problem. Nevertheless, I think a large part of the French diplomatic corps does favour arresting the top guys. I have spoken with a couple of generals as well as with a numerous diplomats who are for it.

Have you spoken with General Janvier?

He has'nt spoken with anybody apart from one French journalist and David Harlan of the UN.

So General Janvier cannot bear criminal, but only political, responsibility for preventing military intervention to save Srebrenica?

The Massacre at Srebrenica is most probably one of the reasons why the French Army for a long time did not arrest accused war criminals. But I don't know if that is anything to do with Janvier. Now we know that French intelligence service had links with Serbian spies, and the French spies transferred some of the killers from Srebrenica to Zaire to defend Mobutu. The French, both long before the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and also after the war, maintained very strong ties with the Yogoslav and Serbian military command and intelligence services. However, in international politics there always exists domestic politics. And that is always the most sensitive question. Ask yourself: why was Milosevic always able to do what he wanted, in opposition to the will of the entire international community?

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the day of Krajisnik's arrest gave notice that this was the fifth arrest in which French forces had directly participated.

Who said that?

The spokesman of the Quai d'Orsay.

Five. Here's the first: one man accused of war crimes in Foca went to give himself up to French military forces. He is called Dragoljub Kunarac. He was arrested on 4 March 1998. My sources informed me that, before they allowed that person to give himself up, the French sought agreement from the political authorities in Foca and from Biljana Plavsic to his arrest. Can you believe that? The man comes and wants to surrender and the French officers tell him: don't do it yet, we have to seek permission from the Serb leaders. That's how the French military forces participated in the arrest. Another case is that of Gagovic, extremely suspicious, you know the man was killed during the arrest. The third arrest was the one the French wanted to say they had carried out, although they hadn't. They were on the sidelines while German special forces entered Foca, entered the apartment where the man they were looking for was hiding, and arrested him. That was in August of last year. The Americans say that the role of the French Army in that action was so minor that even `the Moroccans could have carried out that task'. The fourth arrest was in Visegrad, when they arrested the insignificant Mitar Vasiljevic, in whose apartment French soldiers were staying. That action was counter-productive, because when they arrested Mitar the waiter, they in effect made public the sealed indictment against Milan Lukic, who is probably the biggest mass-murderer in eastern Bosnia and who has strong family links with Milosevic's police. Lukic certainly no longer sits in the taverns of Visegrad, where he sat freely and peacefully for four years.

This interviÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ ew is translated from Dani (Sarajevo), 7 April 2000 From: Dani (Sarajevo), 7 April 2000

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