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US officials move to deport Bosnian suspects over war crimes

Immigration officials in the US are preparing to deport at least 150 Bosnians suspected of "ethnic cleansing" during the Balkan conflict in the 1990s. The number of suspects could top 600, the New York Times reported.

US officials were preparing to deport at least 150 Bosnians suspected of having played a role in the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Serbs during the war that raged in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the New York Times reported.

Authorities identified 300 suspects in all, which included those who allegedly hid their involvement in war crimes when they came to the US as war victims fleeing the violence in the Balkans.

As many as half of these were believed to have played a role at the

1995 genocide in Srebrenica

(pictured above), where Bosnian Serbs killed 8,000 Muslim boys and men. The total number of suspects could top 600.

Decade-long search for suspects

"The idea that people who did all this damage in Bosnia should have a free pass and a new shot at life is just obscene to me," Michael MacQueen of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement department told the New York Times.

The agency, which opened its war crimes section in 2008, investigates cases related to conflicts in different parts of the world. Investigators scoured Bosnian war crime files and military rosters to build cases against those accused of wartime brutalities.

The search for suspects began in 2004 when police arrested a construction worker called Amrko Boskic accused of concealing his military service. He was convicted and sent back to Bosnia, where he was sentenced to ten years jail for crimes against humanity.

According to immigration officials, Boskic's case showed that war crime suspects had been living in the US without fear of exposure. This was especially painful for Bosnian Muslims who lived in the US. "There's been a lot of covering up of what happened in Bosnia and a lot of these people who were involved are still walking around," Hamdija Custovic, a Bosnian immigrant told the author Erik Lichtblau.

Srebrenica Massaker Berufung Ljubisa Beara 30.01.2015 Den Haag

Ljubisa Beara, a senior officer in the Bosnian army at the time of the Srebrenica massacre, was convicted to life by the International Criminal Tribunal last January

Not an easy task

However, building a case against an alleged war criminal was not easy. In his report, Lichtblau mentioned the case of Milan Trisic, a North Carolina truck driver who served in a Bosnian military unit stationed in Srebrenica.

Trisic said he had only driven a truck in the war and not served in the military. He was not facing any charges. Lawyer Christopher Brelje, who was representing some Bosnians facing charges, said they weren't war criminals but simply soldiers securing perimeter positions. He also accused officials in the US of "painting too broad a brush" when it came to war crimes.

More than 120,000 Bosnians applied for US visas in the mid-1990s and were required to disclose military service or any other detail that might have linked them to war crimes. However, officials did not verify statements made by applicants to this effect.

The United Nations declared the slaughter at Srebrenica an official act of genocide in 2004. The International Criminal Tribunal has already convicted 80 people, with

verdicts being upheld against five Bosnian Serbs this year in January

.

mg/bk

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