June 21, 2015 / 7:26 PM / 4 years ago

Serbia seeks extradition of Bosnian wartime commander

Bosnian Muslim Naser Oric sits in the courtroom of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) as he waits for the judgement on an appeal filed by him in The Hague July 3, 2008. REUTERS/Zoran Lesic/Pool

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia has formally requested the extradition of a wartime Muslim Bosniak commander whose arrest this month in Switzerland threatens to overshadow the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre.

During the 1992-95 Bosnian war, Naser Oric was the Bosnian commander of the Srebrenica region, a designated U.N. “safe haven” that fell to Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995.

More than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were massacred in the days that followed, marking the worst mass killing on European soil since World War Two.

In 2008, Oric was acquitted by a U.N. court of war crimes against Bosnian Serb civilians, but was arrested in Switzerland on June 10 on the basis of a Serbian warrant issued in February 2014.

Muslims Bosniaks regard him as a hero, and his arrest may yet derail plans by Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic to attend the Srebrenica commemorations in Bosnia on July 11.

A spokeswoman for the Serbian Justice Ministry told Reuters that Belgrade had officially submitted a request for Oric’s extradition, which the Swiss authorities may or may not comply with. The spokeswoman gave no further details or comment.

Oric has already said he would contest his possible extradition.

Vucic, a former hardline nationalist who has rebranded himself as a pro-Western reformer, said on Friday he was ready to attend the Srebrenica anniversary and “pay my respects” to the victims, provided Bosnia wanted him there.

Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Alison Williams

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