SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Hundreds of war veterans and civilians rallied Friday in support of a Bosnian Muslim wartime military commander who is suspected of war crimes against Serb civilians during the 1992-95 conflict.
Carrying wartime Bosnian flags and banners, the protesters gathered in central Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, carrying a huge banner saying "Heroes, not criminals!"
Last week, police briefly detained Atif Dudakovic and 12 other members of the Bosnian army's former 5th Corps for alleged war crimes against hundreds of Serb civilians in northwestern Bosnia.
The arrests angered many Bosnian Muslims who view Dudakovic and his men as defenders of the northwestern region that was under siege for much of the war.
About 100,000 people died during the war in Bosnia that erupted when Bosnian Serbs rebelled against the country's independence from the Serbia-dominated former Yugoslavia. Bosnian Serbs, led by Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic, took control of large swaths of land with an aim to create an all-Serb state in the ethnically-mixed nation.
Both Karadzic and Mladic have been convicted of war crimes by a United Nations tribunal. The court in The Hague, Netherlands, has sentenced Karadzic to 40 years in prison and Mladic to life in jail for atrocities against non-Serbs in Bosnia.
"Victims of this war were Bosnian Muslims, who suffered the most," war veteran Sanin Musa said during the protest in Sarajevo. He described Dudakovic as a "symbol of the defense of Bosnia and Bosnians."
Dudakovic has also served as the Muslim-led Bosnian Army chief of staff after the conflict.