TIME Serbia

Arrests Made in Balkan War Massacre

"We are now on the path to solve the murder that has been hidden for more than 20 years"

(PRIJEPOLJE, SERBIA) — Police in Serbia and Bosnia arrested 15 people Friday in a wartime massacre that traumatized the Balkans and came to symbolize a culture of impunity that still shields notorious wartime death squads and their masters.

Prosecutors from Serbia and Bosnia, bitter wartime enemies, told The Associated Press they worked together to crack the case of the Strpci massacre of Feb. 27, 1993, in which 19 men were snatched off a train at the height of the Balkans conflict.

Officers carried out pre-dawn sweeps that netted five in Serbia and 10 in Bosnia, including the brother of a jailed warlord, ex-militia members and a former Bosnian Serb general who commanded the military in the area.

“We are now on the path to solve the murder that has been hidden for more than 20 years,” said Serbian war crimes prosecutor Bruno Vekaric. “We have to do it for the innocent victims.”

There was no comment from the jailed suspects or their lawyers

The question now is whether the suspects will point to the men above them who ordered the killings, investigators say. If so, they could implicate some of Serbia’s top current leaders, who were prominent in the war machine of the president at the time, Slobodan Milosevic. While the Serbian government now acknowledges Strpci as a war crime, the killers are still seen by some in Serbia as war heroes.

“Many war criminals are still influential in business, politics, police and the army,” said Bosnian State Prosecutor Goran Salihovic.

The Associated Press obtained exclusive investigative documents in the probe, which is backed by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. Together with witness testimony, they provide the first detailed look at a tragedy whose wounds fester even today because the killers were not identified and the victims’ families not compensated.

The Strpci massacre was part of a conflict that left more than 100,000 people dead and millions displaced. Although all sides have been accused of war crimes, historians say Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia carried out the worst atrocities in an effort to create an ethnically pure territory.

Prosecutors have now identified Milan Lukic, one of the most feared Bosnian Serb warlords of the time, as the ringleader of the massacre, which was carefully planned and meticulously executed. Lukic is already serving a life sentence handed down by the U.N. tribunal for separate atrocities against Muslims in Bosnia.

Those arrested in connection with Strpci include his brother Gojko Lukic; former close associate Boban Indjic; several ex-militia members and former Bosnian Serb army Gen. Luka Dragicevic, who commanded the military in the border zone.

TIME bosnia

Bosnia Finds World War I Centennial Divides Instead of Uniting

The legacy of war is still all too present in the Balkans

Hundreds will gather in front of the Sarajevo City Hall in Bosnia and Herzegovina on Saturday evening to listen to a Vienna Philharmonic concert commemorating a historic event that unfolded only a few miles away, 100 years earlier: Gavrilo Princip’s assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, widely credited with lighting the fuse on World War I. The Hall is the last site the Archduke visited before Princip shot him and his wife. Now, a century later, the Bosnian capital is gathering together regional leaders and dignitaries to contemplate—and draw lessons from—the continent’s tumultuous past.

But anyone looking through the audience on Saturday will find several missing faces, including those of the President of Serbia, the Serbian Prime Minister, and the President of Bosnia’s Serb entity Republika Srpska. The Serb leaders view the commemorative events in Sarajevo not as acts of reconciliation, but as part of a political maneuver to blame the Serbian people for both World War I and the Bosnian War of the 1990s—and are boycotting them as a result.

The site chosen to host the Saturday concert, the City Hall that reopened in May after an 18-year-long restoration, is at the center of the current feud. The building was shelled during the Sarajevo siege of 1992, a defining event in the war between Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks—a secular term for the ethnic group once known simply as Muslims—that claimed 100,000 lives, many of them Bosniak. The renovated building carries an inscription reminding visitors that “Serbian criminals” were responsible for its destruction. “Do not forget,” the sign says. “Remember and warn!”

Nebojsa Radmanovic, the Serbian member of the country’s tripartite presidency, tells TIME he thinks the event organizers from the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina—one of the two political entities that comprise the country, the other being Serb-dominated Republika Srpska—are attempting to “attribute the responsibility for the beginning of the World War I and the recent wars in the former Yugoslavia to the Serb side.” Other Serbian politicians say they would never have agreed to take part in a commemoration that portrays their people as aggressors. “This concept and organization of the event has not been consented [to] by all three members of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Radmanovic says.

Current Bosnian President Bakir Izetbegovic, the Bosniak member of the presidency, has rejected claims that the commemorative events are being fueled by an anti-Serbian rhetoric. “No one is aiming to ascertain history and accuse the doers of the assassinations, especially not an entire group of people,” he told local media. “We will try to round off 100 years of conflicts and derive a lesson from this century of war.”

But what lesson might that be? To this day, Gavrilo Princip’s legacy remains a divisive force in the region. Among many Serbs, Princip is celebrated as a freedom fighter who considered Bosnia a part of the Serb national territory, the same nationalist ideal that prompted the Serbs to fight the Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosnians in ’92 when the latter wanted the country to separate from Yugoslavia. “In Serbian nationalism, [Princip] is a hero, a freedom fighter,” says Aleksandar Hemon, a Sarajevo-born Bosnian-American author who moved to the U.S. at the outset of the Bosnian War. “In Bosnia, he is a terrorist.”

Princip was celebrated as a liberator in the Yugoslav period, but such honors have since been withdrawn in Sarajevo, says Ivo Banac, a Croatian historian who has written extensively about the former Yugoslavia. The steps commemorating the exact spot from which Princip shot the Archduke were a major tourist attraction in the Yugoslav era, but were removed in 1992, and the plaque that once said Princip defied tyranny was eventually replaced with a more neutral one. Serbs in Bosnia are now attempting to rectify this with a portfolio of centennial-related events unrelated to the ones in Sarajevo, including an unveiling today of a statue of Princip in East Sarajevo, a settlement to the east of the capital located in Republika Srpska.

With the 1990s war still a living presence to most Bosnians, it was perhaps unrealistic to expect the country to unite around a memorial to an older conflict, Banac says. “The memory of these events has by no means been put aside,” he explains. “I don’t see any of this as particularly healing in the context of ongoing difficulties in Bosnia.” While the rest of Europe can claim to have learned from a century marred by war, in the Balkans, the legacy of war is still being questioned, renegotiated, and disputed. “There aren’t too many neutrals on these things” in Bosnia, Banac says.

So when the Vienna Philharmonic begins tuning up on Saturday night, who will be listening? Hemon, who was in Bosnia last week, says locals know a spectacle is in store, but adds with a laugh that many Bosnians have recently been more interested in the World Cup, in which the country’s soccer team made its first-ever appearance this year. To most citizens, he says, the current tensions are only an addition to the “run-of-the-mill” disputes that have been present in the country ever since the Dayton Agreement ended the Bosnian War in 1995. “It’s like the same dance,” he says, “the same choreography, over and over again.”

TIME Serbia floods

Satellite Images Show Serbian Town Underwater after Floods

The town of Obrenovac, in northwest Serbia, was among the worst hit by historic floods that wreaked havoc across the Balkans. The flooding killed at least 40 people, including 14 in Obrenovac

The town of Obrenovac in northwest Serbia was largely submerged in flooding that wreaked havoc across the Balkans last week. The town was evacuated, but at least 14 people were killed and entire portions of the town were destroyed.

The historic flooding–more rain fell in three days than normally falls in a month–killed at least 40 people in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia and caused more than a billion dollars in damages. On Tuesday, Serbia declared three days of national mourning. In Bosnia, where a day of mourning was also held on Tuesday, the government says more than 1 million people — a quarter of the neighboring nation’s entire population — were affected by the flooding and landslides.

The satellite photos of Obrenovac, provided by Digital Globe, Google, CNES, and Astrium, may be even more explicit than the numbers. The rooftops of homes can be seen poking out above the floodwaters; entire fields disappear under the murky water; and roads lead into newly formed lakes.

TIME Serbia

Thousands Flee Deadly Floods in Serbia and Bosnia

TOPSHOTS-SERBIA-BOSNIA-WEATHER-FLOOD
A Serbian rescue worker carries an elderly woman out of her flooded house in the Serbian village of Obrez on May 17, 2014 Sasa Djordjevic—AFP/Getty Images

Floods have killed at least 44 people and caused some 10,000 to evacuate from the affected areas, while some towns have been completely cut off following the region's heaviest rainfall since the late 19th century

Thousands of people have fled their homes in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina as massive floods fueled by record rainfall have already killed at least 44 people, officials say, and as residents have been warned about land mines exposed by mudslides.

Approximately 10,000 people have been evacuated from the affected areas, while some towns have been completely cut off by the deluge that hit the region’s Sava River, Agence France-Presse reports.

“We sent rescue teams into a part of the city we had not been able to access so far. They are entering those areas fearing what they might discover,” said Samo Minic, the mayor of the Bosnian town of Samac.

One rescue worker who spent two days trying to reach the Serbian village of Krupanj described the floods as looking “like a tsunami and earthquake occurred at once.”

“We found some 50 people gathered in the highest house,” Nedeljko Brankovic said. “They had neither electricity nor drinking water. Telephones did not work. We evacuated them 10 by 10 in a huge boat.”

Twenty-seven deaths have been reported in Bosnia, 16 reported in Serbia and one reported in Croatia. Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said he expected the death toll to rise.

In addition to the floods, the rainfall led to destructive landslides and warnings that residents should beware of exposed landmines first buried during fighting and warfare in the 1990s.

[AFP]

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