January 18, 2011 for The Associated Press
by Josh Lederman

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police on Tuesday arrested a former Bosnian Serb soldier implicated by Bosnian authorities in the killing of 8,000 Muslim men in 1995.

Aleksander Cvetkovic, 42, was arrested Tuesday morning following an extradition request from the Bosnian government, the Israeli Justice Ministry said. A hearing Wednesday in Jerusalem will set a timetable for determining whether he can be extradited.

The Bosnian Prosecutor’s Office said Cvetkovic “was suspected of genocide” because of direct participation in the 1995 execution of Bosnian Muslim men and boys at the Branjevo farm, near Srebrenica. Four other former members of Cvetkovic’s battalion are being tried by Bosnia’s war crimes court on genocide charges related to the incident.

The Justice Ministry said Cvetkovic moved to Israel with his family in 2006. He received citizenship under Israeli law because his wife is Jewish.

The Israeli public defender’s office appointed Nick Kaufman as Cvetkovic’s lawyer. Kaufman, who is also defending former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba on war crimes charges, is a former prosecutor for the U.N. war crimes tribunal, where he helped convict former Serbian generals.

Under the European Convention on Extradition, which both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Israel have signed, Israel is obligated to extradite Cvetkovic if he is wanted for carrying out a nonpolitical offense that is illegal in both nations.

The Bosnian prosecutor’s office thanked Israel Tuesday for cooperating with the August 2010 request.

“We expect the suspect to be extradited to Bosnia-Herzegovina soon,” said spokesman Boris Grubesic.

Unless Cvetkovic agrees to be extradited, it will likely be months before he would leave the country, according to international law expert Robbie Sabel of Hebrew University. First, the court would have to decide he’s extraditable, a decision he could appeal to the Supreme Court. Then Israel’s justice minister would have to approve his extradition.

Likely defenses Cvetkovic might try are that his crime was political and not criminal, that Bosnia-Herzegovina hasn’t presented solid evidence of his guilt, and that he wouldn’t be afforded a fair trial if extradited, Sabel said.

At Cvetkovic’s home in the northern Israeli town of Carmiel, those who answered the door Tuesday refused to speak with reporters. But outside the home, Alexander Rakoshi said he was stunned by the arrest of his neighbor of at least two years.

“He’s a nice man, friendly and a great guy,” Rakoshi said. “He has three kids, a wife — his wife is friends with my wife.”

Cvetkovic is wanted as a suspected member of an eight-man firing squad involved in executing between 1,000 and 1,200 Bosnian Muslims at the Branjevo Farm in July 1995, according to the Bosnian extradition documents. The victims were brought in buses to the farm, where soldiers led them off in groups of 10, blindfolded and bound. After lining them up, the eight soldiers shot the victims from behind with automatic weapons, then buried them, the documents allege.

The killings were part of what later became known as the Srebrenica massacre, in which Bosnian Serb troops killed around 8,000 Muslims. It was the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II.

Hundreds of Serbs are implicated in the massacre, and most are believed to be hiding in Serbia or the United States. Cvetkovic is the first to be arrested in Israel.

If extradited, Cvetkovic would be tried in the special war crimes department of Bosnia’s State Court in Sarajevo, which the international community established in 2002. So far it has convicted seven people for genocide in Srebrenica and acquitted four. Another four are currently on trial.

Thirteen other Serbs have been convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which handles higher-profile cases involving officers who commanded other troops. Six of those are currently appealing their convictions, including two sentenced to life for genocide.

Associated Press writers Mike Corder in the Hague and Aida Cerkez in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina contributed to this report.