Momcilo Krajisnik, the most senior Bosnian war crimes suspect detained so far, pleaded innocent yesterday to charges of genocide in his first court appearance since being snatched on Monday by Nato special forces.
Listening impassively to the nine counts read out against him at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Mr Krajisnik replied "not guilty" to each charge. The only drama during the half-hour hearing in The Hague came as Mr Krajisnik made a direct plea for the right "to say a few words" in his defence. His request was denied by Judge Richard May, who said the hearing was limited to the charges and plea.
Mr Krajisnik, who was speaker of the Bosnian Serb parliament during the 1992-95 war, faces life imprisonment if found guilty of genocide, complicity in genocide, crimes against humanity, violations of laws or customs of war and breaches of the Geneva Conventions.
His trial reflects the attempts of the tribunal to focus its activities on the political leaders behind the policy of ethnic cleansing, rather than those who carried out their orders.
Mr Krajisnik's counsel, Igor Pantelic, told reporters: "It's unfounded, it's vague, it's fabricated, it's politically motivated." Arguing that his client was just "a consultant" to the Bosnian Serb leadership and was not responsible for military actions, Mr Pantelic added: "By his capacity he cannot be responsible in the chain of command."
The tribunal's spokesman, Jim Landale, said: "We hope sincerely that Mr Krajisnik will not stand trial alone, and that in the dock next to him will be [the Bosnian Serb leader] Mr Radovan Karadzic." Mr Karadzic is thought to be within the grasp of S-For, but heavily protected, making his arrest risky.
The proceedings were adjourned until July.
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