THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release July 10, 1997 3:44 P.M. (L)
PRESS BRIEFING BY
NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR SANDY BERGER
The Marriott Hotel
MR. BERGER: Good afternoon. I have a brief statement to make about the events that took place earlier this morning in Bosnia, which have been the subject of comment by General Joulwan at SHAPE a little while ago.
Today SFOR forces operating in the British sector detained indicted war criminal Milan Kovacevic. This detention took place without incident. He is in the process of being handed over to the International War Crimes Tribunal for arrest and transport to The Hague.
In a separate detention action, indicted war criminal Simo Drjaca, former police chief in Prijedor, fired upon British SFOR soldiers as they sought to detain him. He was killed when SFOR personnel returned fire in self-defense. Both Kovacevic and Drjaca were the subject of sealed indictments for war crimes issued by the Tribunal for complicity in acts of genocide against Bosnian Muslims and Croats in the Prijedor area in 1992.
Under SFOR's mission they may apprehend indicted war criminals encountered in the course of its duties and if the tactical situation permits. This was such a situation. SFOR forces regularly encountered these individuals in the vicinity of Prijedor, a township, as I said, in the British sector, both before and after issuance of the sealed indictment. SFOR concluded that they should detain these individuals. NATO political authorities agreed with that view. SFOR acted within its mission and mandate.
U.S. SFOR forces provided some logistic and backup and transportation support to the operation. No U.S. forces participated in the detentions themselves, however.
The President, when briefed on the outcome of this, indicated that he was satisfied that SFOR had acted courageously and in an appropriate manner.
Q Was the President briefed ahead of time by anyone, and was this something that was discussed, the idea of such operations, among the leaders at the NATO meeting?
MR. BERGER: I prefer not to take questions on this at this point.
Q Sandy, why did you go after small fry instead of the headline war criminals?
MR. BERGER: Again, you've heard my statement and that's what I --
Q Is this sort of a PR at this NATO expansion time? Why don't you go after Karadzic and Mladic?
MR. MCCURRY: That concludes the briefing. In a short while we'll have a senior official who will be available.