Croatian Serb chief accused of terrorism

War crimes: UN charges Krajina leader over cluster bomb attacks

Europe Editor

Milan Martic, the leader of the failed Serbian uprising against Croatian rule, was accused yesterday of terrorism by a prosecutor at the United Nations war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia. Opening a three-day hearing in The Hague, the Swedish prosecutor, Eric Ostberg, said Mr Martic ordered a cluster bomb attack on Zagreb last May, which was intended to cause maximum civilian casualties.

"The shelling of Zagreb was not a reprisal [for Croatian attacks on Serbs]. It was a terror retaliation and it was unlawful," Mr Ostberg said. "Zagreb was lucky. I am surprised that many, many more people didn't die."

Seven civilians died in the rocket attacks, which followed a successful Croatian offensive to recapture western Slavonia, an area seized by Serb rebels in 1991. The UN tribunal contends Mr Martic gave orders for the rockets to be fitted with cluster bomb warheads, designed to scatter lethal fragments at civilian targets.

Mr Martic, who was president of the Republic of Serbian Krajina, the self-proclaimed Serb state in Croatia, has been in hiding in the Serb-controlled part of Bosnia since Croatia's army overwhelmed his forces last August. The hearing in The Hague does not amount to a trial in absentia of Mr Martic, but prosecutors want tribunal judges to issue an international arrest warrant for him and confirm he should stand trial for war crimes.

Mr Martic has spat defiance at the UN tribunal, telling Banja Luka television in Serb-held Bosnia last week: "I do not recognise the legitimacy of that tribunal and will not let them arrest me or put me on trial. Any such attempt will be considered an act of terrorism, and we are prepared to respond appropriately," he said.

Nato forces implementing the Dayton peace agreement for Bosnia were issued last week with "wanted" posters bearing Mr Martic's photograph. They are empowered to arrest UN-indicted war criminals if they come across them in the course of their normal duties, but have no specific instructions to hunt down the accused men.

Mr Martic was the first Serb leader to be made the subject of a special war crimes hearing. His Bosnian Serb counterparts, Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, have been formally accused of war crimes but remain at liberty in Serb-held parts of Bosnia.

A British police investigator, Kevin Curtis, read out to the UN hearing a transcript of a television interview last May in which Mr Martic appeared to take personal responsibility for the rocket attacks on Zagreb. "What the Croats have done is a crime

Mr Curtis said the Serbs fired a dozen Orkan rockets at Zagreb, each carrying a payload of 280 fist-sized bomblets filled with hundreds of ball-bearings. One rocket exploded over streets near a children's hospital, an old people's home and the Croatian dance academy.

The tribunal agreed to consider an application for the release of a Bosnian Serb general arrested by Bosnia's Muslim-led authorities last month and taken to The Hague by Nato forces on suspicion of war crimes. No formal charges have been issued against General Djordje Djukic, who was arrested along with a Bosnian Serb colonel, Aleksa Krsmanovic.

In seeking General Djukic's release, a Belgrade lawyer, Milan Vujin, said his arrest and transfer to The Hague were illegal. The general is being held under a tribunal rule concerning the provisional arrest of suspects in urgent cases.