The U.N. war crimes tribunal on Sunday took custody of a former senior Bosnian Serb commander accused of genocide for the 1995 mass killing of Muslims in the U.N.-protected zone of Srebrenica.
Ljubisa Beara, who was a colonel and the security chief for the Bosnian Serb army’s main staff, is one of the most senior officers to fall into the court’s hands in recent years.
He was delivered to the U.N. detention unit near The Hague after midnight, following his arrest Saturday in Serbia, tribunal officials said.
In Belgrade, the government of Serbia-Montenegro said Beara surrendered “to protect the interests of the state and those of his family.” He was hustled to the Netherlands accompanied by Serbian Justice Minister Zoran Stojkovic, government spokesman Srdjan Djuric told The Associated Press.
But prosecution spokeswoman Florence Hartmann denied Beara had given himself up. “We do not use the word surrender,” Hartmann said. “He was arrested and didn’t put up any resistance.”
Whether Beara surrendered or was arrested could be a decisive factor if he asks the tribunal to be released so he can await the start of his trial at home.
Beara, 65, one of seven fugitives sought for the massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, faces six counts of genocide, complicity in genocide, murder, persecutions and forced transfers. He could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted on any charge.
As chief of security under Gen. Ratko Mladic, Beara was in charge of all war prisoners after Bosnian Serb forces overran a lightly armed and ill-prepared Dutch battalion assigned to protect the Muslims of Srebrenica.
Mladic and former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic are the tribunal’s most-wanted fugitives.
Beara’s name has cropped up repeatedly in the trial of other Serb officers and victims who testified about his alleged role in the slaughter.
His 2002 indictment gives details of dozens of incidents and hundreds of murders by forces under his command, including the decapitations of 80 to 100 Muslims in the town of Potocari on July 12, 1995. He also was said to have forced tens of thousands of Muslim women and children to leave Srebrenica.
Beara is accused of being part of a “joint criminal enterprise” alongside former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who was extradited to The Hague tribunal in 2001. His trial is to resume Tuesday after a one-month recess.
The court already has ruled that genocide occurred at Srebrenica and that Bosnian Serb forces sought to wipe out the Muslims there as a distinct community. One general, Radislav Krstic, has been convicted of aiding and abetting genocide.
It was the worst civilian massacre in Europe since World War II. So far, the remains of more than 5,000 victims have been exhumed from various mass graves across eastern Bosnia.
Serbia-Montenegro, the successor state to Yugoslavia, has been under mounting international pressure to arrest and extradite Mladic and 15 other war crimes suspects to the U.N. tribunal. The United States and the European Union have made future financial and political support conditional on their extradition.