Two Bosnian Serbs charged with organizing a "campaign of terror" surrendered Saturday to the U.N. war crimes tribunal, the first Serb suspects to turn themselves in voluntarily.
The unexpected decision by Milan Simic and Miroslav Tadic could signal a turning point in Bosnian Serb cooperation with the international court, which Bosnian Serb leaders have so far refused to recognize.The men met officials from the U.S. Embassy outside a hotel in this northern town, where 500 people turned out to say goodbye. Men expressed anger at the surrender, and some women wept.
Driving in their own cars, escorted by U.S. officials in separate vehicles, the suspects headed to Tuzla, where NATO-led troops planned to accompany them to The Hague, the Netherlands.
"I hope this is the beginning of the end of the demonizing of the Serb people," Tadic said earlier Saturday outside his house in Bosanski Samac, a town on the Sava River, 38 miles north of Tuzla.
The surrender followed last month's election of a pro-western government in the Bosnian Serb republic. In addition to pledging support for the 1995 Dayton peace agreement, the new prime minister, Milorad Dodik, said his government would cooperate with the tribunal and agreed to let them open an office in Banja Luka.
"We see this surrender as extremely significant," tribunal spokesman Christian Chartier said. "It's the first voluntary and unconditional surrender by accused from the Republic of Srpska. We would hope that this is not the last."
In Washington, State Department spokesman James Rubin said the United States also welcomes the surrender of the men, saying it "demonstrates courage on their part and faith in the processes of justice."
"Their surrender should encourage other persons indicted for war crimes still at large to turn themselves in," Rubin said in a statement.
Simic and Tadic were indicted in July 1995 with four other Serbs from their town for crimes against humanity and war crimes connected with forcing civilians from their homes. They deny the charges.
The 10-page indictment alleges that Tadic and Simic participated in "a campaign of terror designed to force most Bosnian Croat and Muslim residents to leave the area" of Bosanski Samac.
After taking control of the town in 1992, Serb authorities set up camps for non-Serbs where they were beaten, tortured, raped and killed, according to the indictment.
Simic, 40, was a town assembly official at the time of the alleged crimes. He is accused of being with a group of Serbs who beat Bosnian Muslim Muhamed Bicic in June 1992 with iron bars and chair legs.
Tadic, 61, a former teacher who owned a cafe, is accused of helping carry out the mass deportation of non-Serbs from the area to camps between April 17 and Sept. 4, 1992.