Switzerland to extradite Bosnian Muslim war crimes suspect

AFP , Thursday 25 Jun 2015

Switzerland on Thursday authorised the extradition of former Bosnian Muslim commander Naser Oric to Bosnia rather than Serbia, which had issued the war crimes warrant for his arrest.

Oric, who led Muslim forces in Bosnia's east during its 1992-1995 civil war, was arrested on June 10 in Geneva, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity against ethnic Serbs during the conflict.

His arrest sparked outrage in Bosnia and threatened relations with Belgrade -- but Switzerland has decided to send Oric to his home country, where he also faces war crimes allegations.

"The Federal Office of Justice today approved the extradition of Naser Oric to Bosnia and Herzegovina," the Swiss government said in a statement, adding that the date of his handover would not be made public for security and privacy reasons.

The Muslim member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic, hailed the decision as "the only correct and fair" one.

"Another attempt of Serbian justice to mistreat our citizens, despite the accords and protocols (on cooperation of two countries in war crime cases) failed," Izetbegovic said in Sarajevo.

In Belgrade, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said the decision was "politically motivated and is all but fair."

"For Serbia it means that the war crimes issue is not a matter of justice but of politics," Vucic told reporters, adding that he was sure the case would be dropped in Bosnia.

Oric, who stands "accused of the worst war crimes, has thus been practically released," Vucic said.

Serbia accused Oric and four other people of committing war crimes in July 1992 in Zalazje near Sarajevo, where nine ethnic Serbs were killed.

He had opposed extradition to Serbia, forcing Swiss authorities to ask Belgrade to submit a formal extradition request, which was received on June 22.

But in the meantime, Bosnia requested that he be sent there to face criminal proceedings for war crimes against the civilian population -- something the 48-year-old agreed to at a hearing on Thursday.

His agreement allowed the Swiss justice ministry to "approve the extradition immediately in simplified proceedings," it said.

It also justified its decision to send him to Bosnia instead of Serbia with criteria in the European Convention on Extradition, pointing out that "the same criminal acts on which both requests are based were committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina," and that Oric is a Bosnian citizen.

Bosnian anger over Oric's arrest had forced Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic to call off a visit to the neighbouring country.

In Srebrenica, organisers of ceremonies next month marking 20 years since the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boy also threatened to cancel the events if he was not released.

They explained that the commemoration -- expected to attract tens of thousands -- would be cancelled for security reasons, with the arrest provoking "very tense" relations between Serb and Muslim communities in the town.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia convicted Oric in 2006 and sentenced him to two years in prison for not doing enough to prevent crimes committed by his subordinates against Serbs.

He was acquitted on all charges on appeal in 2008 on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

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