Police in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) said on Tuesday (May 29th) they have notified Montenegrin authorities that a runaway Bosnian Serb war crimes convict may be hiding in their territory.
Radovan Stankovic, who was serving a 20-year sentence for the enslavement, torture, rape and killing of non-Serb civilians during the 1992-1995 conflict in BiH, escaped in the eastern town of Foca on Friday while being taken for dental treatment.
On the way to the local hospital, the car in which the former Bosnian Serb soldier was travelling was intercepted by another vehicle. Stankovic was then snatched by an undetermined number of accomplices and managed to flee despite roadblocks set up by police.
On Tuesday, the police said they had found the getaway vehicle abandoned on a dirt road in a barely accessible area near the border with Montenegro, which is only 10km from Foca. It is “presumed he crossed into Montenegro on foot”, the AP quoted police as saying in a statement Tuesday.
Stankovic reportedly holds citizenship in the former union of Serbia and Montenegro, and existing laws would prevent authorities in Podgorica from extraditing him back to BiH.
The Bosnian branch of the Interpol said on Tuesday that once it receives an official report about the escape, it would issue an international warrant for his arrest.
Quoting the head of the Foca penitentiary, the Croatian news website Javno.hr reported on Monday that all nine prison guards accompanying Stankovic to the hospital have been suspended from duty and face criminal charges.
“The aim is for us to see the role of these people in the planned escape — that is, to cease suspicions that Stankovic had support from the prison in escaping,” Aleksandar Cicmil said.
Meanwhile, the head of BiH’s top court, which incorporates the country’s war crimes chamber, voiced concern Tuesday about the safety of officials who convicted Stankovic.
“This shouldn’t have happened,” Reuters quoted Meddzida Kreso as saying at a news conference in Sarajevo. “The security of our judges and prosecutors has been endangered and this sends a very bad message to victims and witnesses.”
In light of death threats Stankovic sent to judges and prosecutors during his trial, the BiH authorities have assigned a special guard to ensure their protection.
In September 2005, Stankovic became the first indictee transferred from The Hague-based UN war crimes tribunal for trial at home.
Charging him with four counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of violation of the laws or customs of war, the tribunal alleged that between August and October 1992, he was in charge of a house in Foca, referred to as “The Brothel”.
At least nine Bosniak women and girls were held there and subjected to constant rape and sexual abuse. Among the captives were two 12-year-old girls, one of whom remains missing.
In November 2006, Stankovic was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Two months ago, however, an appellate panel raised that to 20 years.