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Arrests over Strpci war massacre

Police in Serbia and Bosnia have arrested 15 people over a 1993 wartime massacre that traumatised the Balkans and came to symbolise a culture of impunity that still shields notorious death squads and their masters.

Prosecutors from Serbia and Bosnia say they have jointly cracked the case of the 1993 Strpci massacre, in which 19 men were snatched off a train.

Officers carried out a pre-dawn sweep today that netted 15 suspects, including the brother of a feared warlord who is already in jail, ex-militia members and a former Bosnian Serb general.

The question now is whether the suspects will point to the men above them who ordered the killings, investigators say.

"We are now on the path to solve the murder that has been hidden for more than 20 years," said Serbian war crimes prosecutor Bruno Vekaric. "We have to do it for the innocent victims."

The suspects could implicate some of Serbia's top former and current officials, who were prominent in the war machine of the president at the time, Slobodan Milosevic. While the Serbian government now acknowledges Strpci as a war crime, the killers are still seen by some in Serbia as war heroes.

"Many war criminals are still influential in business, politics, police and the army," said Bosnian state prosecutor Goran Salihovic, who compared probing war crimes in the Balkans with "reaching into a snake's nest".

Threats to investigators, witness intimidation, attempts to plant false evidence and police foot-dragging - all prominent factors in the Strpci case - have continued to plague efforts to bring war criminals to justice, prosecutors say.

So far, the remains of only three victims have been found in Lake Perucac, on the border between Serbia and Bosnia, apparently carried there down the Drina River.

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