ZURICH (Reuters) - A Bosnian Muslim wartime commander who was arrested in Switzerland in connection with alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity will contest his extradition to Serbia, Swiss authorities said on Thursday.
Commander Naser Oric was arrested in Thonex in the Swiss canton of Geneva on Wednesday based on a request submitted by the Serbian authorities on Feb. 3, 2014, Switzerland’s Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) said in a statement.
Oric is being held in detention pending extradition.
The FOJ said it will ask the Serbian authorities to submit a formal extradition request within the 18-day period laid down in the European Convention on Extradition.
Bosnia’s Prime Minister Denis Zvizdic said the arrest was politically motivated and aimed at distracting public attention from a resolution drafted by Britain at the United Nations Security Council to mark next month’s 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, angering Serbs.
In July 1995, toward the end of the Bosnian war, Bosnian Serb forces swept into a U.N.-designated “safe haven” from where they took 8,000 Muslim men and boys to be executed in the days that followed.
Oric, then a Bosnian army commander, was in charge of organizing the defense of the town.
He was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for crimes against Serbs but was acquitted of all charges in 2008, a ruling that angered the Bosnian Serbs and Serbia, who see the tribunal as biased against them.
“I strongly condemn such an act, having in mind that Oric was acquitted of all charges by the Hague-based tribunal. Such actions pose a threat to efforts to stabilize the relations between Bosnia and Serbia,” Zvizdic said in a statement.
Serbian authorities suspect that between 1992 and 1995, Oric and other members of the Bosnian Muslim forces attacked Serbian villages in the Srebrenica region to drive out the civilian population. The arrest request refers to an attack on Zalazje in which nine people were killed in July 1992, the FOJ said.
Bosnia’s Chief Prosecutor Goran Salihovic said he would ask Serbia’s prosecution to hand over the case to Bosnia in accordance with an agreement on judicial cooperation between the two Balkan nations.
Serbia’s Chief Prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic declined to comment.
Oric is the fourth Bosnian high-ranking official arrested outside the country on Serbian warrants for crimes committed on Bosnian territory during the 1992-95 war, which killed an estimated 100,000 people.
Bosnian army war veteran groups announced they would protest against Oric’s arrest on Friday in several Bosnian towns.
Additinal Reporting by Maja Zuvela and Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo; Editing by Janet Lawrence