SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina – Hundreds of residents of the predominantly Bosnian Croat town of Orasje protested Friday against the arrest of former members of Bosnian Croat armed forces for alleged war crimes against Bosnian Serbs in 1992.
The protests in a town square were initiated by Bosnian Croat veterans who claimed the suspects had only defended the town from Serb attacks.
The arrest of 10 former Bosnian Croat soldiers Monday in Orasje, near the border to Croatia, prompted a wave of condemnations from Croatian leaders.
All 10 suspects have both Bosnian and Croatian citizenship.
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said he rejected any characterization of the alleged crimes as a joint criminal enterprise involving Croatia. Bosnia's prosecution office said Friday it had never said it treated the case as a joint criminal enterprise, but that the 10 were suspected of individual and command responsibility for war crimes.
Croatia supported Bosnian Croats during Bosnia's 1992-95 war and is concerned whether "command responsibility" could mean Croatia was accused of involvement in the alleged crimes.
Croatia's president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, condemned the arrests and Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier said Croatia had informed NATO allies as well as the EU about the arrests.
Among those arrested was Djuro Matuzovic, a Bosnian Croat general. His lawyer, Almin Dautbegovic, told the AP on Friday his client was himself under the command of the Croatian Army at the time of the alleged the crimes.
At the beginning of the 1992-95 Bosnian war, Bosnia had agreed with Croatia that the Croatian Army could enter Bosnia and help local troops fight the Serbs.
"Therefore Croatia legally entered Bosnia at the time and commanded over the troops in Orasje," Dautbegovic said. Thanks to this cooperation between the two countries the Orasje area was never occupied by the Serbs, he said.
Matuzovic had no effective control over troops and had no authority to either "issue orders, prevent crimes or punish anyone for them," his lawyer said.
"If any (crimes) were committed at all, they were certainly " done by individuals, he added.
Zlatko Matuzovic, the genera's son, said "we never thought for a moment that my father did something bad, and dishonest."
"Everyone in this region knows that my father is an honest and honorable person," the son said.