A Bosnian Muslim wartime commander who led the doomed 1995 defense of Srebrenica was arrested by peacekeeping forces and handed over to the U.N. war crimes tribunal here today to face charges of crimes against Bosnian Serbs.
Nasser Oric, charged with responsibility for the murder and mistreatment of Serbs in custody in Srebrenica in 1992-93, is considered a hero by many Bosnian Muslims for spearheading the defense of the enclave.
Srebrenica became a byword for mass murder after Serbian forces overran the town in 1995 and massacred around 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.
Oric was snatched by the NATO-led Bosnia Stabilization Force in the town of Tuzla on Thursday night and transferred to the U.N. tribunal today, court officials said. Bosnian radio said dozens of masked soldiers from the peacekeeping force swooped into his home.
The Hague indictment alleges that military police under Oric's command beat Serbian detainees with metal bars, baseball bats and rifle butts and extracted teeth with rusty pliers. Some were beaten to death or until they were unconscious, it says.
The six counts against Oric also accuse him of burning dozens of Serbian villages around Srebrenica.
NATO Secretary General George Robertson said the peacekeeping force was stepping up its drive to track down the tribunal's most wanted men, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb wartime leaders who are charged with the Srebrenica massacre and other war crimes.
"You have only two choices: Turn yourself in with dignity or justice will be brought to you. The net is closing," Robertson said, referring to a fresh drive by the West to close down support networks for fugitive war-crimes suspects in the Balkans.
But Oric's arrest sparked outrage among many Bosnian Muslims. "We are all embittered and surprised that Nasser Oric was arrested while Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are still at large," said Sabra Kolenovic, a Srebrenica survivor.
"If there is evidence of crimes committed, everyone should be held accountable. But Oric has never hidden from anyone and I deeply believe he does not belong to The Hague," she said. "Oric remained in his town and defended its people."
A statement by the Women of Srebrenica association condemned the peacekeeping forces. "Nasser is our surviving son and by his arrest you have finally shown your real face and expressed the hatred that you feel for Muslims across the world and in Bosnia itself," it said.
Oric once served as the bodyguard for Slobodan Milosevic when Milosevic was the president of Serbia, before the breakup of Yugoslavia. The Bosnian war placed them on opposing sides.
Oric, 36, served as the commander of the Srebrenica territorial force headquarters. He was decorated in 1994 for his role in the war.
He is one of seven Bosnian Muslims indicted by the tribunal for alleged war crimes. The court has faced accusations by Serbs that it is biased against them and prosecutes more Serbs than it does other ethnic groups.