Copyright © Associated Press 1998
May 1, 1998
Argentina arrests WWII death camp commander Sakic
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - Distancing itself from its reputation as a haven for Nazi war criminals, Argentina arrested a former army captain who presided over the largest -- and deadliest -- concentration camp in Croatia.
Neighbors booed and whistled Thursday when police led away Dinko Sakic, detained a month after he went public about his past in an Argentine TV interview.
Sakic, 76, put up no resistance and smiled derisively as he was taken from his home in the Atlantic resort of Santa Teresita, 200 miles southeast of Buenos Aires.
Interior Minister Carlos Corach told reporters that Croatia was seeking Sakic's extradition for trial in the wartime killings of as many as 600,000 people, although Croatian authorities have not yet filed any charges.
Extradition could be granted in a short time if Sakic consents. "If not, it will depend on legal hurdles" put up by defense lawyers, Corach said.
Sakic, who had kept a low profile since he came to Argentina in 1947, admitted in an April 6 television interview that he was the lead commander of the Jasenovac concentration camp, where vast numbers of Serbs, Jews and gypsies perished.
But Sakic denied any wrongdoing, saying no one was exterminated at the camp when it was under his control.
"There was a typhus epidemic, but no cremation ovens," Sakic insisted.
Shortly after the interview, Croatia requested Sakic's extradition and he disappeared from public view. President Carlos Menem ordered a full-scale search; it was not immediately clear whether Sakic had only recently returned to his home or had been there almost all along.
Federal Judge Hernan Bernasconi, in charge of the proceedings, gave no details on the circumstances of Sakic's arrest.
Yugoslavia's federal court has already begun criminal proceedings, according to media reports Wednesday. Croatia, formerly a republic of Yugoslavia and now an independent state, has taken similar measures.
The Argentine Foreign Ministry said in a statement early this week that Croatia intends to prosecute Sakic in the deaths of thousands of civilians while he served with pro-Nazi Croat forces.
At the time the alleged crimes were committed, Jasenovac was within the Independent State of Croatia, established by the Nazis when they conquered Yugoslavia.
Estimates of the number of people who died in the camp range from tens of thousands to more than a half-million. In addition to Serbs, Jews and Gypsies, Croats who did not support the pro-Nazi Croat regime also were killed.
Whether Croatia or Yugoslavia secures Sakic for trial could make a vast different in his treatment.
Serbs, the dominant force in Yugoslavia, made up the majority of victims at Jasenovac -- and they would be eager to punish one of those responsible.
Croatia, where he is most likely to be sent, has seen heated debate over his case, with many Croatians eager to minimize or even deny atrocities committed by Croatian forces.
Neither Croatia nor Yugoslavia has the death penalty.
Menem, reversing past Argentine governments' tacit policy of sheltering fugitive Nazis, indicated earlier he would not oppose Sakic's extradition.
With Brazil, Argentina long has been regarded as a refuge for top Nazi and SS officers and concentration camp leaders. Among them was Erich Priebke, recently extradited and sentenced in Italy for his role in a 1944 massacre of 335 civilians outside Rome.