Monday, December 18, 2006

U.S.: DISMAY AT ARREST OF ETHNIC SERBS

New York, 18 Dec. (AKI) - Serbs living in the United States are reported to be deeply disturbed and worried by recent arrests of fellow Serbs in connection with the 1990s Balkan wars, community leaders have said. In a six-state swoop, American agents arrested 13 Serb immigrants last week and are looking for another three who are still at large. One of those arrested, Nedjo Ikonic, is being investigated for allegedly having taken part in the massacre of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica when it was overrun by Serb forces in July 1995.

If convicted, Ikonic and other suspects face up to ten years in jail and deportation from the US. "These cases demonstrate our resolve to identify and prosecute those who enter the US under false pretences," said deputy attorney general Paul McNulty. "Especially those who hide their military past," he added.

Those arrested were poor immigrants who had no money for lawyers of bail to defend themselves from freedom, the Serbian consul in Chicago, Desko Nikitovic, told Vesti daily. He said Serbia could not help them because most were Bosnian citizens.

"Unfortunately, this is a huge operation in which only Bosnia-Herzegovina can intervene with Washington. No-one needs to spoil the relations between our two countries, which have been improving," said Nikitovic.

Milwaukee lawyer, Nikola Kostic, said he was trying to organise a team to offer legal help to the arrested and their families, because neither Serbia nor Serb organisations in America have shown much interest in helping the suspects.

"Serbs are being hunted throughout America, but no one is checking Bosnian Muslims and Croats who have immigrated to the United States in the past 10-15 years," Zika Petrovic of Denver, Colorado, told Vesti. "No one asks them whether they have concealed what they did in the wars, what army they served and whether they committed crimes against Serbs," Petrovic said. "All this is creating an unfortunate impression that the war against Bosnian Serbs has now shifted to US soil," he concluded.

Vesti, distributed throughout Serbian emigre community - which numbers a million in the US - said that there is a list of over 300 people, submitted to the United States by Bosnian authorities and the United Nations' Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, who are suspected of having committed crimes during the 1992-1995 Bosnian civil war.

Officially, the suspects are being charged for failing to report to immigration authorities that they served in the Bosnian Serb army, which fought against local Muslims. (Vpr/Aki)

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