U.S. Immigration Investigating Bosnian Serbs
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
Over the past week, 26 Bosnian Serbs living in the United States have been arrested for allegedly concealing their service at military units linked to a 1995 massacre of Muslims. NPR's Allison Keys reports.
ALLISON KEYS: Special agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, made the arrest over the past week in at least seven cities, including Detroit, Orlando and Cleveland.
Claude Arnold, chief of the Human Rights Violators and Public Safety Unit at ICE, explains that the defendants are accused of lying on various applications to get into this country.
Mr. CLAUDE ARNOLD (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement): They did not disclose that they had served in Bosnian Serb military units. And more specifically, they served during the period when the Srebrenica atrocities took place. And they were all in military units that have been alleged to be involved in those atrocities.
KEYS: Arnold stresses that they are not accusing the defendants of actually being involved with the atrocities. But, he says, the military units they allegedly served with were involved.
Janusz Bugajski directs the New European Democracies Project at the Center for Strategic International Studies, and says the massacre the Bosnian Serb units are accused of committing was horrific.
Mr. JANUSZ BUGAJSKI (Center for Strategic International Studies): Srebrenica was one of the major massacres perpetrated by the Bosnian Serb side against the Bosnian Muslim refugees, mostly young boys and young men in '95 at the tail-end of the war in Bosnia. An estimate of anywhere between 6,000 to 8,000 people were summarily executed, actually murdered, by being shot at the back of their head. And their bodies were initially buried in one spot but then were strewn on different parts of the territory. And they're still trying to find all the remains of all the missing and unaccounted for.
KEYS: ICE's Claude Arnold says defendants face between five and 10 years in prison if convicted, and perhaps more if the government finds specific evidence that any of them were involved in executions.
Mr. ARNOLD: We arrested in Boston, in 2004, one of the people who's part of the Srebrenica crime base, as we refer to it - Marko Boskic. And he was just recently convicted. He was sentenced for the use of fraud and received an enhanced sentence because during his trial, we did raise specifics of his involvement in executions and atrocities in general.
KEYS: Arnold says there may very well be people living among us who are involved with war crimes.
Mr. ARNOLD: The horrible irony to this is, people who are actually perpetrators of atrocities, they know the details. So they're very adept at claiming that they in fact were the persecuted when in fact they were the persecutors. In refugee populations, how do you know who's who?
KEYS: At the Washington-based think tank, Bugajski is hoping the arrests don't go unnoticed.
Mr. BUGAJSKI: Well, hopefully nobody would feel safe as a result of this who has participated in any kind of massacres or massive human rights violations, as in the former Yugoslavia. So of course, as with the Nazi hunting, it does send a positive message that you're simply not gonna get away with it.
KEYS: The government says the investigation is ongoing. Allison Keys, NPR News, Washington.