The arrest of former Bosnian leader Ejup Ganic here in the UK in response to an extradition request from the Belgrade authorities is a striking development. See this short account on the Belgrade-based B92 website.

In fact the issue has been rumbling on for a couple of days, with Bosniac leader Silajdzic in Sarajevo unwisely denying that anything amiss was happening.

Here is a quick piece I have done for the Independent website. It gives what I hope is a fairly untendentious (and highly simplified for space reasons) account of the confusing events in Sarajevo’s ‘Volunteer Street’ back in 1992, when a convoy of Yugoslav Army (JNA) troops withdrawing was attacked.

Amidst heavy fighting arising from Bosnia’s declaration of independence and pro-Yugoslav forces’ attacks on part of Sarajevo, Bosniac leader Alija Izetbegovic had been captured by the JNA. A plan emerged. JNA forces surrounded in Sarajevo by Bosniac forces could leave the city in exchange for Izetbegovic’s release.

Agreement to this effect was reached with UN active engagement, to the point of UN vehicles leading the convoys intended to effect the swap.

To get a sense of what all this was about, there is no better source than the magnificent Death of Yugoslavia TV series.

Here is part of it describing the negotiations over Izetbegovic’s release, with Ejup Ganic himself figuring prominently in interviews afterwards and in live footage taken at the time:

This then describes what happened: 

Legal and foreign policy questions swirling away in the coming hours and days will include:

  • is the Serbia extradition application properly made in itself?
  • do the circumstances back in 1992 as alleged by the Serb side in principle meet the legal requirements for extradition now?
  • can enough persuasive factual evidence be adduced by Belgrade to show that there is a case to answer?
  • what about other agreements between Belgrade and Sarajevo on how war crimes allegations arising from the BH conflict are to be handled – should a UK court take cognisance of them?
  • do wider political factors need to be taken into account, and properly might be by the English courts? What impact might Ganic’s extradition to Belgrade have on already unhappy Bosnian internal processes and prospects for EU membership? (Answer: negative
  • even if the political impact might well be negative, should the UK government properly stay out of this one and let the legal chips lie where they fall?
  • and many many more

On the substance, the vivid Death of Yugoslavia footage shows clearly where the Bosniac leadership seek to escape any responsibility for the Volunteer Street shootings. Their argument is (variously) that parts of the deal had not been finally nailed down and/or that they had no operational control over the actions of Bosniac militia forces who acted (they claim) spontaneously.

As in all such situations, it is next to impossible to prove how far any attack was explicitly ordered by the leadership, as opposed to encouraged by a sly wink at the right time.

Did Ganic and/or some of the other Bosniac leaders/commanders plan all along to double-cross the Serbs, suspecting that that is what the Serbs would do to them if things were reversed? What if anything did the UN people on the spot know or suspect?

Bear in mind too the wider politics now.

President Tadic in Belgrade is pressing Serbia’s Parliament to pass a resolution condemning the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. And, as luck has it, Radovan Karadzic’s trial at the Hague Tribunal moves into the media spotlight again.

Tadic needs to show Serbia’s public opinion that he is taking a position of principle – just as Serbs allegedly responsible for war crimes in Bosnia need to face justice, so do those suspected of crimes against Serbs.

Meanwhile in Sarajevo Bosniac President Silajdzic is loudly insisting that any extradition of Ganic will amount to Bosnia’s legitimate self-defence being put on trial, yet another example (he says) of the ‘relativisation of responsibility’ for the Bosnian conflict at the main victims’ expense.


Will we see another protracted example of other countries’ affairs being pored over exhaustively in the London courts?

Note: declaration of interest. I knew Ganic and his family quite well when I was in Sarajevo and he was a top leader of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the so-called ‘Muslim-Croat Entity’). He was a genial wily negotiating partner, albeit often ruefully joking that his prospects were limited in Sarajevo as he was seen by other Bosniacs as a bit too Serb/Yugoslav (he was born in the Sandzak area of Serbia).

I was far away in London in mid-1992, knee-deep in the papers generated by the collapse of the Soviet Union. So insofar as I know anything about the Volunteer St shootings it is not from first-hand experience.