BIJELJINA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — In an American-led operation, peacekeepers went deep into hard-line Serb territory Thursday to detain a suspected war criminal who allegedly modeled himself on Adolf Hitler and is suspected of dozens of murders.
It was the first time American soldiers in Bosnia had arrested a war crimes suspect, although they have previously provided backup support.
President Clinton, who authorized the action, was awakened at 5:30 a.m. in Washington and told that the mission was successful.
Goran Jelisic, 29, was detained early Thursday after peace troops spotted him in Bijeljina, his hometown in northeastern Bosnia, said Maj. Louis Garneau, a NATO spokesman.
Bijeljina, in Serb-ruled territory 70 miles northeast of the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, is in an area patrolled by American and Russian troops.
The third arrest of war crimes suspects in Bosnia by NATO-led troops, Jelisic’s detention was significant because it was the first to occur in the eastern half of the Serb substate sharing Bosnia with a Muslim-Croat federation.
Most Serbs in the eastern region support Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader who stepped down last year because of indictments by the war crimes tribunal.
Karadzic is Bosnia’s No. 1 war crimes suspect, and Jelisic’s arrest was at least an indirect warning that he, too, could be targeted, even though any force tackling Karadzic would have to deal with his well-armed bodyguards.
Jelisic was indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in July 1995. The indictment against him, and another camp official, Ranko Cesic, contains 77 counts, including one of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Jelisic, who referred to himself as “Adolf” in reference to Adolf Hitler, commanded the Luka prison camp near the northern town of Brcko in May 1992.
He is specifically accused of murdering 16 Muslims but also charged in the killings of “countless detainees.”
Jelisic is the 20th Bosnian war crimes suspect in the custody of the tribunal based in The Hague, the Netherlands. He arrived there late Thursday.