Croatia’s justice ministry has announced that Australia has decided to extradite former paramilitary commander of ethnic Serb forces Dragan Vasiljkovic, known as Captain Dragan, to Croatia for his trial starting on July 15.
Vasiljkovic has been accused of war crimes such as looting houses and attacking, torturing and beating civilians during the Croatian conflict between 1991 and 1995. Vasiljkovic has been jailed in Sydney without trial since the Croatian government demanded his extradition in 2006.
Because Vasiljkovic is an Australian citizen, Canberra demanded evidence that Vasiljkovic’s trial will be held by unbiased Croatian authorities. Insisting that he is innocent, Vasiljkovic also said that the Croatian justice system will be biased towards him.
“In preparing my defence for the Croatian court, I hired two lawyers from Croatia, but in recent days they suddenly cancelled their engagement. One of the lawyers received serious threats that his family will suffer because of me,” he said.
The Serbian government has also tried to persuade Australia to send Vasiljkovic to Serbia for the trial process.
On Monday, Croatia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Ranko Ostojic said that Vasiljkovic’s trial will be fair.
"Generally, all I can say is, those matters are usually handled through Interpol. I'm certain that the police will do their job according to the rules which means in cooperation with their colleagues in Australia," he added.
According to the Serbian press, Australian government will pay all Vasiljkovic court expenses.
Vasiljkovic went from Australia to the former Yugoslavia as a businessman in the 1980s.
Due to his military experience and nationalist attitude, he was sent to the Croatian border by the interior ministry of Serbia during the Croatian War of Independence in 1991.
He allegedly managed paramilitary units financed by Slobodan Milosevic and the Serbian government. In 2003 he rejected all the accusations against him during the trial of Milosevic in The Hague.
The United Nations’ highest court has ruled that neither Croatia nor Serbia committed genocide against each other’s people during the wars leading to the the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
A legal battle between Serbia and Croatia began in 1999, when Croatia accused Serbia of ethnic cleansing on its territory. Serbia responded with a suit of its own against Croatia in 2010, claiming that over 200,000 ethnic Serbs fled when Croatia started military operations in the region to regain its territory.
In the early 1990s, over 20,000 people were killed alone in the war between Croatia and Yugoslavia.