August 16th, 2006 15:21 EST
U.S. Welcomes Cooperative Inquiry of New Balkans War Videos By Vince Crawley
Washington -- Serbian television has aired videos of alleged atrocities by Croat and Bosnian troops in 1995, and the United States has welcomed investigations by the former warring parties, saying individuals rather than groups should be held accountable for any war crimes.
“The United States condemns all war crimes committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia, regardless of the ethnic or religious identity of the victim or perpetrator,” acting State Department spokesman Gonzalo R. Gallegos said in a statement August 16.
“We welcome the fact that the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia are cooperating on an investigation into the acts depicted in the recently aired video footage allegedly from Operation Storm,” Gallegos said, “and we encourage them to complete their work as rapidly as possible.”
Operation Storm took place in August and September 1995. During the final weeks of the Bosnian war, Croat military forces coordinated with Bosnian forces to recapture the Krijina, an ethnic Serb region of central Croatia that had declared itself to be a separate republic during the wars of 1991-1995. The Croatian government regained control of the territory, and an estimated 200,000 ethnic Serbs fled their homes and became refugees in Bosnia or Serbia. (See related article.)
Video taken during the operation has been made public by Serbian television in recent days, apparently released by an unknown source in connection with the 11th anniversary of Operation Storm. One tape reportedly shows Croat and Bosnian troops harassing and attacking convoys of Serb refugees, in one scene killing a Serb who has surrendered. Another tape shows a prominent Bosnian general apparently ordering his troops to burn Serb villages.
Authorities say the tapes show new evidence of war crimes committed against Serbs. Bosnian authorities have renewed their 11-year-old call for ethnic Serbs to hand over Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, wartime Bosnian Serb leaders who have been indicted for war crimes, including mass murders in Srebrenica, Bosnia. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is not opening any new cases, so any newly discovered war crimes would have to be investigated and tried by local authorities. (See related article.)
“Atrocities were committed by all sides of the conflicts with varying levels of planning and organization, and we condemn any attempts to exploit these tragedies for political advantage,” the State Department's Gallegos said.
“We continue to urge the governments in the region to investigate all allegations of war crimes, to prosecute those responsible, and to cooperate with other regional governments to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice,” Gallegos said.
“Holding individuals accountable for these crimes, and moving beyond collectivization of guilt of entire groups,” Gallegos said, “is vital to ensuring stability, security and reconciliation in the region.”
The text of Gallegos’ statement is posted on the State Department Web site.
For more information on U.S. policy in the region, see Southeast Europe.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)