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US, Bosnia catch up on war criminal prosecutions

Marko Boskic has been extradited to Bosnia to face charges.

NEW YORK — A former Boston resident who took part in the mass execution of 1,200 Bosnian civilians in the worst war crime in Europe since World War II was deported from the United States on Tuesday and arrested by Bosnian police on arrival in Sarajevo Wednesday.

Marko Boskic will now face war crimes charges, including a possible charge of genocide, for his part in the Srebrenica massacre, during which Bosnian Serb forces murdered 8,000 Muslim men.

Boskic was sentenced to 63 months in a U.S. prison in November 2006 for immigration fraud — essentially, he had lied to immigration officials about his war record. Normally people convicted of immigration fraud are given small sentences before being deported, but federal prosecutors pushed the judge in the Boskic case to give him a much longer sentence. At that time federal investigators and prosecutors were not convinced that the Bosnian judicial system was up to the job of prosecuting Boskic. The country’s war crimes court had just been set up and was flooded with cases and short on experience. The court is now fully operational and Boskic will join four other members of his former unit on trial.

The Boskic case illustrates a significant shift in how both Bosnia and the United States are dealing with the men who turned parts of Bosnia into a slaughterhouse. Reporting on the Boskic case in 2006 for Newsday, I visited the family of one of the men killed by Boskic and his colleagues. Emina Hidic’s two brothers were murdered by the 10th Sabotage Detachment. I told her that it was possible that after Boskic had served some time in an American prison for immigration fraud that he could be flown home and released.

“That says everything about the state of justice here,” Hidic told me as we sat in her quiet apartment in Sarajevo. “I absolutely have no words. Really outrageous.”

Days of reckoning for most victims seemed elusive in Bosnia. I traveled to Bratunac, a Serb-dominated town where many of the alleged killers of nearby Srebrenica still lived — sometimes next door to the relatives of people they had murdered. No one in the town, Serb or Muslim, seemed to think there was much of a threat from the Bosnian war crimes court and its prosecutors.

That perception changed soon after. I visited Bratunac the following year, after the court had increased its Srebrenica-related caseload, and people I spoke to, both Muslim and Serb, agreed that the court was beginning to prove its power.