Serb accused of genocide at first war-crimes trial

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The Independent Online
THE FIRST Yugoslav war- crimes trial to be held in a Western courtroom opened yesterday in Austria where a 26-year-old Serb is charged with having committed murder, arson and genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the summer of 1992. The accused, Dusko Cvjetkovic, denied all charges.

Mr Cvjetkovic told the Salzburg court that he had never been near the sites listed in the charges and that he was not guilty of any crimes. 'I never fired a shot, set fire to anything or killed anyone,' the Austrian news agency APA quoted him as saying.

His Austrian lawyer, Guenther Stanonik, suggested anti-Serb feelings - stirred up by the media - might prejudice the case, and warned the jury not to be influenced by 'media indoctrination . . . just because he (my client) is a Serb'.

Proceedings were adjourned until 5 December to give the prosecution time to summon witnesses.

Mr Cvjetkovic came to Austria as a refugee in April last year and was recognised on the street by a fellow Bosnian who identified him as an alleged war criminal. He is accused of taking part in the sacking of Kucice, a Muslim village north of Sarajevo, of killing at least one person, and ordering two others to a detention camp where they later were said to have died.

The genocide charge hinges on the allegation that the accused killed his victim or victims solely because they belonged to a population group other than his own. If convicted, Mr Cvjetkovic faces a life sentence.

He is the first alleged war criminal from Yugoslavia to face prosecution outside the war zone and in the West. Several war-crimes trials have been held in Croatia and Bosnia, and other international cases are pending. Dusko Tadic, a 38-year-old Bosnian Serb, was named last Friday as the subject of the first international war-crimes investigation since the Nuremburg and Tokyo trials after the Second World War.

Mr Tadic was arrested in Munich in February, but the UN tribunal in The Hague has asked Germany to suspend proceedings against him so it can bring charges, and Germany has indicated it is willing to hand over the case. The tribunal is happy for other countries to try suspected Yugoslav war criminals as it does not have the resources to try them all itself. However, it can take over important cases if it sees fit.

A spokesman for the tribunal said Mr Tadic's alleged crimes were considered by the chief prosecutor, Richard Goldstone, to be a key to showing that the Bosnian- Serb leadership had a systematic plan to eliminate minority ethnic groups from certain areas of Bosnia.

Mr Tadic is suspected of killing, raping, beating and torturing Croats and Muslims during the 'ethnic cleansing' of the Prijedor region of northern Bosnia.

Other cases pending include the trial of a Bosnian- Muslim suspected of war crimes against prisoners in a camp at Dretelj, near Mostar. The trial is expected to open in Denmark next month. A further case is pending in Switzerland.