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WWII War Crimes Suspect Extradited

June 17, 1998

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ The former commander of Croatia’s largest concentration camp was extradited Wednesday, bound for his homeland to face accusations of World War II atrocities.

Flanked by Croatian police, Dinko Sakic smiled as he boarded a commerical flight, Lufthansa 517, for Frankfurt, Germany. Authorities said he would later change planes for Zagreb, Croatia.

In Croatia, Sakic faces investigation for crimes allegedly committed while he commanded the Jasenovac concentration camp in the early 1940s, when the country was under the pro-Nazi Ustasha regime.

``Sakic has always wanted to go to Croatia to explain the facts,″ Miguel Angel Rossi, Sakic’s public defender, told reporters at Buenos Aires’ international airport.

The public defender’s office said Sakic faces prosecution in Zagreb courts on suspicion that ``he committed crimes against humanity and international law.″

In a two-page statement, it said extradition was carried out in ``record time″ after Sakic consented to being extradited to Croatia, where critics charge he would get a lenient trial.

Croatia’s foreign minister, Mate Granic, has promised that Sakic’s case would be handled ``impartially and highly professionally.″

Thousands of Serbians, Jews and Gypsies died at Jasenovac, the concentration camp known as the ``Auschwitz of the Balkans,″ but exact numbers remain in dispute.

Croatian president Franjo Tudjman has put the death toll at 35,000, the U.S. Justice Department at 125,000; and camp survivors, at up to 500,000.

Sakic, 76, had kept a relatively low profile since arriving in Argentina in 1947, but caused an uproar with a nationally televised interview on April 6.

He had lived quietly in the Atlantic coastal town of Santa Teresita, 165 miles south of Buenos Aires, until the interview.

Speaking with Argentina’s Canal 13, Sakic denied any wrongdoing and said no one was exterminated at Jasenovac while the camp was under his control.

``It was a work camp where the Jews managed themselves,″ Sakic said in the broadcast.

``We never put a hand on any of the prisoners in the camp,″ he added. ``The people died of natural death. There was a typhus epidemic, for example, but there were no cremation ovens that killed anybody.″

In an unusual move, President Carlos Menem called for Sakic’s arrest a day after the broadcast, even though no formal extradition request had been filed. Croatia made the request soon afterward.

Since Menem took office in 1989, his government has worked assiduously to dismantle the country’s image as a Nazi hideaway.

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