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Serbian refugee who owned grocery store in US deported to face war crimes from Bosnian war
LAS VEGAS (AP) ' A man accused of commanding a police squad that rounded up Bosnian Muslims for slaughter in 1995 fashioned a new life in Las Vegas as a modest grocery store owner before being arrested and deported to his native country, his lawyer and U.S. officials say.
Dejan Radojkovic arrived Thursday in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, after an overnight commercial airline flight from Las Vegas accompanied by federal agents, Bosnian authorities and U.S. immigration officials said.
Radojkovic's lawyer in Las Vegas, Don Chairez, denied there was any evidence linking the 61-year-old man ' a permanent U.S. resident and father of two ' with the execution of Muslim boys and men in an event considered Europe's bloodiest mass killing since World War II.
"He is not a war criminal," Chairez told The Associated Press. "There is no evidence that Mr. Radojkovic ever killed anybody."
Prosecutors allege Radojkovic commanded a special police brigade that rounded up about 200 Muslim men in July 1995 in the Konjevic Polje region for execution, according to a statement from U.S. immigration officials.
Chairez said Radojkovic's national guard unit accepted the surrender of about 200 enemy soldiers and turned them over to Bosnian Serb forces. Chairez said Radojkovic didn't know the men would be killed.
Radojkovic was arrested in January 2009 for failing to disclose his wartime history when he entered the U.S., said Nicole Navas, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman in Washington, D.C.
Documents identify him as an ethnic Serbian refugee. An immigration judge in late 2009 ordered him deported on multiple grounds, finding that he ordered or participated in "extrajudicial killing."
Court documents show Radojkovic was accused of failing to report that he had been a squad commander in the Republika Srpska Special Police Squad.
U.S. and Bosnian authorities said Radojkovic was handed over to police at the Sarajevo airport for prosecution based on evidence collected by investigators from the ICE Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague and prosecutors from Bosnia-Herzegovina.
"He's wanted on genocide charges," Navas said.
Prosecutors in Bosnia expressed "gratitude to the institutions of the United States for helping locate and extradite the suspect." They said he is suspected of committing crimes against humanity, but that no charges have been filed yet.
"For the families who lost loved ones at Srebrenica, justice has been a long time coming," Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton said in a statement announcing Radojkovic's deportation. "But they can take consolation in the fact that those responsible for this tragedy are now being held accountable."
Morton promised to ensure the U.S. "does not serve as a haven for human rights violators and others who have committed heinous acts."
The Immigration and Customs chief also pointed to the January 2010 deportation to Bosnia-Herzegovina of Nedjo Ikonic, a Milwaukee, Wis., resident identified as another former special police commander linked to the Srebrenica massacre.
Ikonic was Radojkovic's police commander, Navas said.
Authorities preparing for the trial of former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic on war crimes charges at The Hague, Netherlands, said this month the remains of almost 6,000 people had been exhumed from mass graves in the Srebrenica area. Estimates of the dead run as high as 8,000.
Mladic is standing trial before the military war tribunal on wider charges stemming from atrocities during a process dubbed "ethnic cleansing." Bosnia's 1992-95 war following the breakup of Yugoslavia left more than 100,000 people dead.
Court documents show Radojkovic and his family were granted refugee status and admitted to the United States in June 1999. Radojkovic's wife, Radojka Radojkovic, died in a car crash in Las Vegas in September 2000. A newspaper obituary said she was 43.
Radojkovic's daughter, Ranka Shaw, divorced and moved last year to Bosnia, Chairez said. A son, Ranko Radojkovic, lives in Las Vegas. Neither immediately responded to messages through Chairez.
Radojkovic became a permanent U.S. resident in January 2002. Chairez said Radojkovic used money from an insurance settlement following the crash to open the grocery, which sold food, tobacco, sundries and videos. The business closed after Radojkovic was arrested in January 2009. He remained in U.S. custody for more than three years.
Chairez said Radojkovic had been a police dog trainer in Sarajevo before the breakup of Yugoslavia and was drafted by the Bosnian Serbian military after the war began.
Radojkovic testified in Milwaukee against Ikonic, who Chairez said commanded three police units, including Radojkovic's.
"The government merely alleges that as an individual who was part of a group that accepted the surrender of these enemy soldiers, it is presumed that Radojkovic should have known that the Bosnian-Serbian military forces were likely to kill them," Chairez protested in an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
The Muslim soldiers were loaded on buses and driven away, the lawyer said. "There is no evidence and there is no allegation that Radojkovic shot and killed a single prisoner."
The appeals court in February denied Chairez's appeal, clearing the way for Radojkovic's deportation.
Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York and reporter Aida Cerkez in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, contributed to this report.