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Yugoslav Court Defies U.N.

December 17, 1998

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ A Yugoslav military court defied the U.N. war crimes tribunal on Thursday, hearing testimony from three Serb officers charged by the international court with ordering a 1991 massacre.

The military court in the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade, called the three as witnesses in its own investigation into the massacre of 261 Croats taken from a hospital in Vukovar in eastern Croatia.

The U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, has charged the officers _ Veselin Sljivancanin, Miroslav Radic and Milan Mrksic _ with ordering the massacre and has demanded that the Belgrade government hand them over.

Yugoslavia refuses, saying its constitution forbids extradition. It has instead gone ahead with its own probe of the massacre, saying it has no suspects in the killings.

In their testimony on Thursday, the three officers ``responded″ to allegations by the U.N. tribunal, the military court said in a statement cited by the official Tanjug news agency.

Two representatives of the U.N. court attended the hearings, the statement said.

``I have no comment at all about these proceedings,″ said U.N. tribunal investigator Denis Milner as he came out of the military court building.

The U.N. court’s chief prosecutor, Louise Arbour, had said earlier she would send staff members to the Belgrade hearings to demand the court detain the three officers and hand them over to U.N. custody.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Harold Koh, currently in Montenegro’s capital Podgorica, condemned the Belgrade hearings, saying they showed ``contempt for democracy, human rights and the rule of law.″

Under international law, the U.N. tribunal has the power to take over war crimes cases from domestic courts. National governments are obliged to cooperate with such requests within 60 days.

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