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Australia court allows accused Serb war criminal extradition appeal

[JURIST] The Federal Court of Australia [official website] ruled [judgment text] Wednesday that former Serbian paramilitary commander Dragan Vasiljkovic [Trial Watch backgrounder] may appeal his extradition to Croatia, finding a real chance of prejudice if the extradition were carried out. Vasiljkovic, also known as Daniel Snedden, is accused of war crimes in connection with his treatment of Croatian prisoners during the 1991-1995 war of independence [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. According to the court, Vasiljkovic's political beliefs were the main reason behind the decision to allow the appeal:

The mitigating factor, however, operates by reference to "political beliefs". The appellant's political beliefs concern what he describes in his Statement as "the self determination of Serbian people in the Balkans in those areas where they constitute a majority", in particular in the Krajina ... The appellant's political belief is "that the Krajina Serbs have a right to return to their homeland and are entitled to an independent state". He played a significant role as a military commander in the military conflict in the former Yugoslavia that began at Knin in June 1991, particularly the battle for Glina. The extradition request refers in express terms to the armed conflict in Knin between the armed forces of the Republic of Croatia and the armed aggressor's Serbian paramilitary troops of the anti-constitutional entity the "Republic of Krajina" in which the appellant was a commander. It follows that the mitigating factor is applied by reason of a person's political belief.

The court had ordered Vasiljkovic to be released from custody but that decision was delayed until Friday to give Croatian officials time to chose whether to appeal [B92 report] the ruling.

Vasiljkovic was arrested [JURIST report] in Australia in 2006 at Croatia's request. In February the Australian Federal Court dismissed [judgment text; JURIST report] Vasiljkovic's application for review of a 2007 extradition order [JURIST report] that he be handed over to Croatian authorities. In 2007, a lower Australian court ordered that he be handed over to Croatian authorities pursuant to that extradition request. Vasiljkovic moved to Australia in 1969 at the age of 15 and became an Australian citizen before returning to Serbia to participate in the conflict.

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