ACT News

War crimes suspect Krunoslav Bonic to remain behind bars for more than a month, court hears

A war crimes suspect accused of offences against civilians during the Bosnian war could spend at least a month behind bars in the ACT before his first and only shot at release on bail.

Krunoslav Bonic, 39, appeared in the ACT Magistrates Court on Wednesday for the second time over attempts to extradite him to Bosnia to face war crimes allegations relating to the conflict, which lasted from 1992-95.

The case comes amid continued calls for the creation of a dedicated war crimes unit to investigate what one expert estimates is roughly 500 suspects living in Australia.

A Bosnian federal police warrant has been out for Bonic's arrest since February 2006, and evidence of alleged crimes has existed in The Hague since at least 1999.

But he has lived openly in Australia for up to a decade, using his real name, and even laying wreaths at Anzac Day ceremonies as a representative of a Croatian war veterans association in 2011 and 2012.

An Australian War Memorial spokesman said Bonic was not on the list of those formally invited to lay wreaths, and the photos appeared to suggest he made the tributes after the official conclusion of the ceremonies.

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Extradition proceedings against Bonic only began last week, but the federal government says Bosnia only made its request in March.

His barrister Bernard Collaery described claims of his wanted status as "wildly distorted" on Wednesday, saying there was evidence he had been travelling in and out of Bosnia in recent years.

Mr Collaery also told the court Bonic had himself been imprisoned and tortured as a teenager in Bosnia. 

The court heard Bonic, who was supported by family in the court, had come to Australia as a refugee. 

Lawyers also told the court they would travel to Bosnia to gather evidence for the case.  

Bonic is still in custody, but extradition laws give him one shot at bail.

That bail application is expected to take place in late November, meaning he is likely to remain behind bars at the Alexander Maconochie Centre until then.

Australia relies on the Australian Federal Police to investigate war crime suspects living in Australia, and has a policy of extraditing them overseas, rather than prosecuting them here.

But the AFP has no dedicated team for war crimes investigations, which are often complex and highly specialised. 

Australia's lack of a specialist unit for such work has drawn criticism, including from former deputy chief prosecutor at The Hague Graham Blewitt. 

Author and war crimes expert Mark Aarons has spent decades investigating the issue in Australia. 

He estimates there are roughly 500 allegations of war crimes against people currently in the country. 

"So a standing war crimes unit should start by examining all of the allegations that exist, and deciding which are frivolous or have no substance behind them, and getting them off the books and concentrating on those that have substance and require action," he said.

"Then, when it's done that, it should be looking at it as new cases arise."

Witnesses at the Hague's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia – separate from the Bosnian courts where Bonic is wanted – have previously alleged Bonic helped round up, interrogate, and beat Muslim civilians near the town of Vitez✓ in central Bosnia. 

One witness told The Hague that when Bonic was captured by enemy forces, he was found with the ears of dead soldiers in a bag.

The witness said he asked Bonic about the ears and claimed the prisoner responded he intended to sell them to the Croatian Defence Council for 200 German marks. 

Mr Collaery described publicity of the allegations as "quite unfortunate" in the ACT Magistrates Court on Wednesday. 

He asked for a suppression on Bonic's family's address, which was granted by Special Magistrate Margaret Hunter.

Bonic's case will come back before the court for a directions hearing on November 19, before the bail application on November 27.

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