Israel Extends Remand of Suspect in Bosnia Mass Murder

Aleksander Cvetkovic, 42, is suspected of participating in the murder of at least 1,000 Bosnian Muslims at the Branjevo farm near the city of Zvornik.

The Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday extended the remand of an Israeli citizen suspected of participating in mass murder in Bosnia, until a final ruling on his extradition is handed down.

Aleksander Cvetkovic, 42, was arrested at the request of the Bosnia-Herzegovina government. He is suspected of participating in the murder of between 1,000 and 1,200 Bosnian Muslims at the Branjevo farm near the city of Zvornik. This was one of a series of mass murders over a 10-day period of the Bosnian War that are collectively known as the Srebrenica Massacre.

Aleksandar Cvetkovic, a Bosnian Serb suspected of involvement in genocide.

Cvetkovic denied the charges against him, signaling he would fight extradition to face genocide charges in Sarajevo.

Speaking after Cvetkovic was remanded by a Jerusalem court, defense lawyer Vadim Shub said his client had served as a driver for Bosnian Serb forces but was innocent of the 1995 slaughter.

"He denies all of the allegations against him. He denies that he took part in any kind of war crime. He was a soldier in the army, but he did not take part in any crime," Shub said.

Israel has never extradited citizens on charges of genocide, "and we do not think this is a proper place to begin", he told Reuters.

In remarks to Israel's Army Radio, Shub said extraditing Cvetkovic could open the way for the prosecution abroad of Israeli officials and military personnel that pro-Palestinian activists accuse of war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza.

"There are a number of people in Israel, including senior people, who it is reportedly feared could find themselves in a similar position. So this matter must be reviewed very carefully," he said.

According to the extradition request, Cvetkovic served in the tenth sappers unit of the Army of Republika Srpska, a combined Bosnian-Serbian force.

On July 16, 1995, the unit's commander summoned eight soldiers, including Cvetkovic, and ordered them to the city of Pilica, where they were to take part in the execution of Bosnian Muslim prisoners held in a local school. Cvetkovic and the other soldiers were then taken to the Branjevo farm, where they waited for the prisoners to arrive.

The prisoners were brought to the farm on buses, some of them handcuffed and blindfolded. They were then taken off the buses in groups of ten and led a short distance away, where the soldiers lined them up and shot them with automatic weapons, including both machine guns and pistols.

After each initial barrage, the soldiers would walk among the victims, locate wounded survivors and finish them off. The Bosnian requests asserts that at one point, Cvetkovic offered to use an M-84 machine gun to accelerate the killing. According to estimates by soldiers who took part in the killing, and by a few people who survived by pretending to be dead, the massacre went on for 10 hours.

At a subsequent trial of one of the soldiers, a witness told the court that the commander of the force had ordered the military drivers and policemen present to kill at least one person each, so that they would not be tempted to testify against the soldiers who carried out the bulk of the killings.

Cvetkovic was questioned once before by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, but claimed at the time that he was a driver and denied involvement in the killings.

The shootings formed part of the wider massacre perpetrated throughout the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica, which had been declared a "safe area" by the United Nations. After two years of siege, it was overrun in early July 1995 by Serb forces commanded by Ratko Mladic.

Upon taking control of the enclave, the Serb forces began systematically eradicating the Bosnian Muslim population. They rounded up women, children and the elderly, separated them from the men and forcibly expelled them from the enclave. The men, including thousands captured while trying to escape, were then executed en masse at various sites. Official estimates by Bosnia-Herzegovina and the UN put the total number of people killed at between 7,000 and 8,000.

This was the worst massacre in Europe since World War II, and caused widespread shock and horror.

Cvetkovic was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina, then part of Yugoslavia, in 1968. In 2006, he immigrated to Israel with his Jewish wife and received citizenship. As he was not a resident or citizen of Israel when his alleged crime took place, he will not be able to serve his time in Israel if convicted in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The extradition process is not meant to determine guilt or innocence, and therefore does not require witnesses to testify in court. Instead, the court considers the evidence submitted by the prosecution. If it finds grounds for suspicion that the person indeed committed the crime in question and finds no legal barriers to his extradition, it will declare him extraditable. The suspect can then appeal to the Supreme Court.

The process can take years. For instance, it took nearly three years before the Abergil brothers were extradited to the United States this month.