U.S. Official: Forces in Bosnia Must Apprehend War Criminals

A little-noticed provision of the emerging peacekeeping mission plan for Bosnia requires U.S. soldiers to apprehend indicted war criminals.

“It will be the responsibility of the Implementation force to apprehend war criminals,” said Samuel Berger, deputy assistant to the president for national security affairs.

As the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, as the U.N. war crimes court is formally known, continues to investigate and to hand down indictments, American officials remain committed to bringing war criminals to justice, Berger said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

But just how any of the alleged war criminals are to be apprehended and brought to trial remains unclear.

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic have been the two most prominent figures indicted thus far by the tribunal, which also has handed down indictments for a number of lower lever officers.

Although details of the specifics of the mission remain sketchy, Berger said, “We will not go on a [Mohammed Farah] Aidid search,” referring to the Somali warlord hunted in vain by American forces in 1993.

The U.S.-brokered peace agreement reached this month between the leaders of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia in Dayton, Ohio, requires the parties to ban anyone indicted by the war crimes tribunal from participating in the electoral process or in the emerging government.

Berger termed that provision “a remarkable addition” to the agreement.

U.S. officials “will not negotiate and we did not negotiate in Dayton any kind of compromise of the war crime tribunal,” he said.

In fact, the tribunal praised the agreement, which calls for the establishment of a human rights court with investigative powers.

“There will be a continuing effort to bring war criminals to justice. Certainly they won’t be able to leave Bosnia without putting themselves in considerable risk of being apprehended,” Berger said.

As details of the peacekeeping continue to emerge, the Clinton administration has launched an all-out campaign to win public approval for its commitment to send 20,000 U.S. troops to Bosnia. Another 40,000 troops will be provided by some 25 mostly-NATO countries.

Most Jewish organizations lined up almost immediately behind Clinton to support his effort to send troops.

“While no community is monolithic, it is particularly important that for a community that these kind of horrible atrocities have a particular resonance, speak up and say that `never again’ also means never again for Bosnia,” Berger said.

Berger praised the Jewish community for its support of the Bosnian plan and called for continued activism.

“Congress will hear from those who say that the risks are too great, but if they don’t also hear from those who say we must do this in the interest of humanity and the interest of American leadership, they are going to get a skewed picture,” he said.

“If we fail to secure the peace, the war will resume, the war crimes will resume and we will have enormous responsibility and be diminished as a nation and as a people.”

Congress is expected to vote on a resolution expressing support for the deployment late next week.

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