World

Arrests made in Balkan war massacre

  • July 16, 2014 - FILE photo of Atifa Memovic, wife of Fikret Memovic, speaking to the AP in Prijepolje, Serbia. Memovic was a railway worker from southwest Serbia, who was traveling home from the capital, Belgrade, when his train unexpectedly stopped at a remote station in war-ravaged eastern Bosnia. A group of armed Bosnian Serb militia stormed in and abducted only non-Serbs after recognizing their Muslim names.

    July 16, 2014 - FILE photo of Atifa Memovic, wife of Fikret Memovic, speaking to the AP in Prijepolje, Serbia. Memovic was a railway worker from southwest Serbia, who was traveling home from the capital, Belgrade, when his train unexpectedly stopped at a remote station in war-ravaged eastern Bosnia. A group of armed Bosnian Serb militia stormed in and abducted only non-Serbs after recognizing their Muslim names.  (AP)

  • In this photo taken Thursday, July 17, 2014,  passengers look from the train at railway station near the village of Strpci, eastern Bosnia. Official documents released by the state railway company showed that Yugoslavia’s authorities had been warned in advance that the abduction would take place, but still failed to act to prevent it. Railway security officials held meetings with the police, the state security and the defense ministry seeking protection for its trains and passengers from the Bosnian Serb soldiers, who, they said, would stop the train in Bosnia. At the time, the Yugoslav military was in charge of guarding the entire railway - including the nearly 10 kilometer (6 mile) stretch passing through the Bosnian territory. Additional attention was necessary as a similar bus abduction of 17 Muslims had taken place in October 1992- once again by Lukic’s group - as well as several smaller incidents. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

    In this photo taken Thursday, July 17, 2014, passengers look from the train at railway station near the village of Strpci, eastern Bosnia. Official documents released by the state railway company showed that Yugoslavia’s authorities had been warned in advance that the abduction would take place, but still failed to act to prevent it. Railway security officials held meetings with the police, the state security and the defense ministry seeking protection for its trains and passengers from the Bosnian Serb soldiers, who, they said, would stop the train in Bosnia. At the time, the Yugoslav military was in charge of guarding the entire railway - including the nearly 10 kilometer (6 mile) stretch passing through the Bosnian territory. Additional attention was necessary as a similar bus abduction of 17 Muslims had taken place in October 1992- once again by Lukic’s group - as well as several smaller incidents. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this photo taken Thursday, July 17, 2014, a damaged traffic sign reads: "Bosnia and Strpci" at railway station near the village of Strpci, eastern Bosnia. Official documents released by the state railway company showed that Yugoslavia’s authorities had been warned in advance that the abduction would take place, but still failed to act to prevent it. Railway security officials held meetings with the police, the state security and the defense ministry seeking protection for its trains and passengers from the Bosnian Serb soldiers, who, they said, would stop the train in Bosnia. At the time, the Yugoslav military was in charge of guarding the entire railway - including the nearly 10 kilometer (6 mile) stretch passing through the Bosnian territory. Additional attention was necessary as a similar bus abduction of 17 Muslims had taken place in October 1992- once again by Lukic’s group - as well as several smaller incidents. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

    In this photo taken Thursday, July 17, 2014, a damaged traffic sign reads: "Bosnia and Strpci" at railway station near the village of Strpci, eastern Bosnia. Official documents released by the state railway company showed that Yugoslavia’s authorities had been warned in advance that the abduction would take place, but still failed to act to prevent it. Railway security officials held meetings with the police, the state security and the defense ministry seeking protection for its trains and passengers from the Bosnian Serb soldiers, who, they said, would stop the train in Bosnia. At the time, the Yugoslav military was in charge of guarding the entire railway - including the nearly 10 kilometer (6 mile) stretch passing through the Bosnian territory. Additional attention was necessary as a similar bus abduction of 17 Muslims had taken place in October 1992- once again by Lukic’s group - as well as several smaller incidents. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)  (The Associated Press)

Police in Serbia and Bosnia arrested 15 people Friday in a wartime massacre that traumatized the Balkans and came to symbolize a culture of impunity that still shields notorious wartime death squads and their masters.

Prosecutors from Serbia and Bosnia, bitter wartime enemies, told The Associated Press they worked together to crack the case of the Strpci massacre of Feb. 27, 1993, in which 19 men were snatched off a train at the height of the Balkans conflict.

Officers carried out pre-dawn sweeps that netted five in Serbia and 10 in Bosnia, including the brother of a jailed warlord, ex-militia members and a former Bosnian Serb general who commanded the military in the area.

"We are now on the path to solve the murder that has been hidden for more than 20 years," said Serbian war crimes prosecutor Bruno Vekaric. "We have to do it for the innocent victims."

There was no comment from the jailed suspects or their lawyers

The question now is whether the suspects will point to the men above them who ordered the killings, investigators say. If so, they could implicate some of Serbia's top current leaders, who were prominent in the war machine of the president at the time, Slobodan Milosevic. While the Serbian government now acknowledges Strpci as a war crime, the killers are still seen by some in Serbia as war heroes.

"Many war criminals are still influential in business, politics, police and the army," said Bosnian State Prosecutor Goran Salihovic.

The Associated Press obtained exclusive investigative documents in the probe, which is backed by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. Together with witness testimony, they provide the first detailed look at a tragedy whose wounds fester even today because the killers were not identified and the victims' families not compensated.

The Strpci massacre was part of a conflict that left more than 100,000 people dead and millions displaced. Although all sides have been accused of war crimes, historians say Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia carried out the worst atrocities in an effort to create an ethnically pure territory.

Prosecutors have now identified Milan Lukic, one of the most feared Bosnian Serb warlords of the time, as the ringleader of the massacre, which was carefully planned and meticulously executed. Lukic is already serving a life sentence handed down by the U.N. tribunal for separate atrocities against Muslims in Bosnia.

Those arrested in connection with Strpci include his brother Gojko Lukic; former close associate Boban Indjic; several ex-militia members and former Bosnian Serb army Gen. Luka Dragicevic, who commanded the military in the border zone.