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Serb charged over role in Sarajevo siege



The international war-crimes tribunal in The Hague yesterday charged a Bosnian Serb general with crimes against humanity for abetting the siege of Sarajevo, which killed more than 10,000 people and wounded 50,000.

Hours after the Bosnian government declared that the blockade was over- in practice it ended in December after the arrival of Nato troops - the UN tribunal indicted Lieutenant-General Djordje Djukic, a Yugoslav Army officer who ran the Bosnian Serbs' logistics operations.

The general was indicted for aiding and abetting the siege in which "Bosnian Serb military forces, on a widespread and systematic basis, deliberately or indiscriminately fired on civilian targets that were of no military significance in order to kill, injure, terrorise and demoralise the civilian population".

The general's lawyer, Milan Vujin, was contemptuous: "This contains one fact: that General Djukic is in the Bosnian Serb army," he said. "If that is all they have, we can get the trial over today. Yes, he's in the Bosnian Serb army. There's not one other fact here."

General Djukic fell into the hands of his alleged victims on 30 January, when his driver took a wrong turn into Sarajevo and was stopped by Bosnian police. They arrested General Djukic and Colonel Aleksa Krsmanovic, a colleague, prompting an angry response from Bosnian Serb leaders in Pale, who severed ties with the Nato peace force (I-For).

Two weeks later, General Djukic and Colonel Krsmanovic were dispatched on a Nato plane to The Hague for investigation, to the rage - and fear - of their military and political masters. Both men refused to co-operate with the tribunal as witnesses; the Chief Prosecutor's response was to indict General Djukic and extend the colonel's detention.

"Being unable to continue to regard General Djukic as a witness we have had the opportunity of considering evidence we have against him," Judge Richard Goldstone said yesterday. "Whilst our investigations ... are not yet complete, we considered that in respect of two counts there is sufficient evidence to justify indicting General Djukic."

Judge Goldstone said the indictment was likely to be amended as investigations continued. General Djukic was already known to the tribunal: his name figured in evidence attached to the earlier indictments on war crimes of Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, the political and military leaders of the Bosnian Serb forces.

Most Bosnian Serbs were angered by the arrest of General Djukic, arguing that he and Colonel Krsmanovic were "backroom boys" who could not have blood on their hands.

But both had an important role in organising the weapons and ammunition for the siege, which ended formally yesterday when Bosnian police took control of the Serb-held suburb of Ilijas, linking the city to government territory for the first time since May 1992.

Both men could bring down bigger prey, perhaps even President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia. Despite the routine denials from Belgrade, it is clear Serbia's help was crucial to the war effort of its Bosnian clients. General Djukic is an officer in both the Yugoslav and Bosnian Serb armies.

General Djukic, due in court on Monday to enter a plea, is unlikely to face trial for months. The only other suspect in detention, Dusan Tadic, is expected to stand trial on 7 May, more than a year after his extradition from Germany to The Hague. Both he and General Djukic are housed in a specially built cell-block in Scheveningen prison.

Colonel Krsmanovic will be another neighbour for at least a month, held as a possible suspect and witness. Judge Goldstone is considering whether to indict him or release him to the Bosnian authorities, who would pursue their own case against him. The colonel refused to attend earlier hearings because he does not recognise the tribunal. He may now consider the role of turncoat preferable to that of defendant.