Officials implicated in war crimes run Bosnian Serb town International donors have given $3 million for reconstruction

February 01, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- International donors have pumped an estimated $3 million in reconstruction aid into a Bosnian Serb town run by a rogues' gallery of war crimes suspects, conferring a semblance of respectability on town leaders and undercutting investigations by the United Nations war crimes tribunal, a watchdog group says.

In a 70-page report, Human Rights Watch says the mayor, deputy mayor, police chief, hospital director and director of a local organization claiming to be the Red Cross were all deeply implicated in "ethnic cleansing" in Prijedor, a town in northwest Bosnia.

Although none of the five has been indicted for war crimes, most are under investigation by the tribunal and all have been cited in U.N. reports on wartime atrocities.

The report says the municipal officials "got away with their crimes and became rich men in the process, having expropriated businesses, homes and other assets of the non-Serbs of the community, estimated to be worth several billion" German marks.

"The architects of ethnic cleansing interact daily with representatives of international organizations," the report says. "This contact grants them a wholly undeserved legitimacy, given that they achieved their positions by 'disappearing' the duly elected mayor of the town, Muhamed Cehajic, believed killed on July 26, 1992, and thousands of other [non-Serbian] community leaders and citizens."

Human Rights Watch has called on international organizations, especially aid groups, to break off contact with Prijedor officials and to end assistance programs unless there is a guarantee that none of the money will find its way into the pockets of the town leaders, a condition the report says is unlikely to be met.

Although no precise figures are contained in the report, sources said that aid spending in Prijedor has totaled at least $3 million.

Much of the money was skimmed by town authorities through methods such as direct pressure on aid-givers to do business with companies controlled by the municipal leaders, according to Human Rights Watch.

Pub Date: 2/01/97

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