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Croats Tried for Wartime Crimes

September 21, 1998

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ Three Croats accused of atrocities against Serb rebels and civilians in the 1991 Serbo-Croat war declined to enter a plea Monday at the opening of the first such trial in Croatia.

They and six others are charged in abductions and with extortion, attempted murder and murders committed in the Pakracka Poljana region. Hundreds of ethnic Serbs allegedly were tortured _ and dozens of them eventually killed _ in the area 70 miles southeast of the capital.

Three of the defendants, Munib Suljic, 39, Igor Mikola, 27, and Miroslav Bajramovic, 41, appeared before the court Monday. Entering a plea is not mandatory, and all three were silent when asked for one. The six others remain at large and were being tried in absentia.

More than 20 witnesses were expected to testify in the first case in which Croats are being tried for atrocities against local Serbs.

Until an interview with Bajramovic was published in the weekly Feral Tribune in September 1997 _ which he since has partly retracted _ most Croats viewed themselves only as victims in the six-month war.

Serbs in Croatia, with help from the dominant Yugoslav republic of Serbia, revolted against the government in Zagreb. The 1991 revolt was triggered by Croatia’s declaration of independence from Yugoslavia; about 10,000 Croats died in the war.

Bajramovic admitted in the interview to torturing and killing 72 people and being responsible for 14 more deaths in Pakracka Poljana and Gospic, 110 miles south of Zagreb. He described torture techniques that included electrocuting people with hooks under their fingernails or cables up their rectums.

Bajramovic also implicated high-ranking army officials, including the former interior minister and local commander. None of the former soldiers, however, were charged with any of the most severe crimes described in the newspaper interview.

A court statement issued shortly after Bajramovic’s indictment a year ago said he had retracted parts of his published confession in his official account.

Some Croats, including many former soldiers, have denied any Croat atrocities; others have pressed for a reevaluation of the events of 1991.

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