Serb to face trial over war crimes

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THE UN tribunal on the former Yugolsavia in The Hague yesterday brought the first war crimes trials since Nuremberg one step closer when it notified the defence lawyer of Dusko Tadic - one of the most notorious suspect war criminals in Western hands - that it will try his case in the spring.

Mr Tadic, 28, a former restaurant owner from a Muslim village in northern Bosnia that was brutally 'ethnically cleansed' by the Bosnian Serbs during the summer of 1992, was arrested in Munich in February by the German authorities after Bosnian refugees accused him of having murdered and castrated Muslim inmates in the Omarska prison camp.

His lawyer, Steffen Ufer, said in a telephone interview he was sent yesterday a 150- page dossier, with the names of those it said were witnesses to Mr Tadic's crimes, announcing that the tribunal was taking over the case.

Until now, the German Federal Prosecutor's office in Karlsruhe said it intended to try the case but there were political questions over whether Germany had the moral authority to try a case involving accusations of genocide. Mr Tadic had yet to be formally charged, although the German authorities said they were planing to accuse him as an 'accomplice to genocide' very shortly.

'I'm quite sure now the trial is not going to be held in Germany but in The Hague,' Mr Ufer said. 'The tribunal notified me that its investigations show that my client was an accomplice to 'ethnic cleansing' and that it wants to take over the case. It expects to indict Tadic next month and is pressing for a trial to start in the spring.'

The notification is the first known case in which the tribunal, dogged by criticism for its slow action since its inception 20 months ago, has actually moved against an individual. It follows an announcement earlier this week by the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Richard Goldstone, that he would bring charges next month against individuals and expected to begin trials in March.

Although there are at least three other Bosnian Serbs suspected of having committed war crimes held outside the former Yugoslaia, Mr Tadic is undoubtedly the best known suspect in custody. He was the first Balkan war crimes suspect arrested outside the war zone and the accusations that he castrated prisoners or forced them to castrate each other have been widely reported.

One lawyer familiar with the case said the tribunal's decision to try Mr Tadic, who - despite the barbarity of his alleged crimes - was not in the command structure that allegedly planned the genocide, shows it intends to make him an important symbol.