WASHINGTON — A former top Bosnian official who's facing possible extradition from Great Britain to Serbia on war crimes charges on Tuesday criticized the Obama administration for remaining silent on his plight.
Ejup Ganic, who was a member of Bosnia's wartime collective presidency, noted that he'd hosted then-first lady Hillary Clinton, now U.S. secretary of state, during her 1996 visit to Bosnia. He said he also met with President Bill Clinton's Balkan negotiator, Richard Holbrooke, during the bitter war between Serbia and Bosnia triggered by Bosnia's independence.
Serbia has demanded that Britain extradite Ganic for his alleged role in the deaths of Serbian troops in a May 1992 incident at the start of the 3 1/2-year war, even though two courts, a United Nations tribunal in the Hague and the Bosnian state prosecutor's office, have declined to bring charges. A British court on Tuesday set July 5-9 as the dates to hear Serbia's demand for extradition and for Bosnia's claim that Serbia had abused the extradition process.
Ganic, who stayed in Sarajevo throughout the Serb-led siege of the city, remains under house arrest in London until the hearing.
"The Americans shouldn't be silent on this case. Silence implies approval," Ganic told McClatchy when reached by telephone in London.
Ganic recalled his role as Hillary Clinton's host in March 1996 when she made a famous one-day visit on behalf of her husband to Tuzla in northeastern Bosnia. The visit became the focus of controversy during her 2008 presidential campaign, when she claimed that she'd come under sniper fire — a claim reporters who'd been with her disputed.
Ganic said he tried to "play down the damage" by saying at the time that he "was worried about the overall safety."
He expressed dismay that Holbrooke, now President Barack Obama's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, also has said nothing.
"Everyone is silent, even the American ambassador in Sarajevo," Ganic said. "The State Department should react. They should send an observer here. They should point out that there are findings by the Hague Tribunal and by the Bosnian war crimes tribunal."
Until Tuesday, the State Department had refused to comment. In response to Ganic's remarks, however, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said: "We are very aware of the case, and it is proceeding through the British legal system."
A senior U.S. official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the case, noted that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia had "investigated Mr. Ganic and found no basis for the charges. We would hope at the end of this process that the British court will reach the same conclusion."
Ganic said the case is causing a "huge panic" in Bosnia and is damaging the fragile state, as well as the reputation of the war crimes tribunals.
At Tuesday's hearing, Serbia charged that Ganic, as acting president of Bosnia-Herzegovina, had personally ordered attacks on a military hospital, an officers' club, a column of military vehicles, and withdrawing Serbian forces. Ganic maintains he gave no such orders, and no tribunal has found that he did.
The Hague tribunal determined that an attack by Bosnian forces on the withdrawing Serbs was in fact a lawful move against a legitimate military target.
The Serbian submission omitted a major fact in describing the incident at Dobrovoljacka Street, where Bosnian forces killed Serb troops — that the cause of the confrontation was the Serbian abduction of Bosnia's president, Alija Izetbegovic, when his plane touched down at Sarajevo Airport May 2, 1992.
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