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U.N. Court Tries Six Bosnian Croats

August 17, 1998

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ Six Bosnian Croats accused of taking part in a 1993 massacre of at least 103 Muslims went on trial Monday in the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal’s largest mass prosecution.

The defendants allegedly were among Bosnian Croat troops responsible for the April 16, 1993, deaths in the central Bosnian village of Ahmici. Entire families were gunned down and their houses set on fire.

One victim, shot and left to die in a burning house, was three months old, according to the tribunal indictment.

``One woman was killed while she was still holding the hand of her child,″ tribunal prosecutor Frank Terrier said in his opening statement.

He also played video footage of a British Broadcasting Corp. news program in which British soldiers were shown recovering charred bodies from burned houses in Ahmici.

The defendants _ brothers Zoran and Mirjan Kupreskic; their cousin, Vlatko Kupreskic; Vladimir Santic; Drago Josipovic; and Dragan Papic _ all sat calmly Monday in court, flanked by seven U.N. guards.

In preliminary statements Monday, attorney Ranko Radovic, defending Zoran Kupreskic, described the men as ``peasants ... defending their homes.″

Vlatko Kupreskic was arrested Dec. 18 in the town of Vitez near Ahmici. The remaining five defendants surrendered to the tribunal a year ago.

All six are accused of crimes against humanity for persecuting the inhabitants of Ahmici. The defendants face an additional 18 charges relating to specific allegations of murder and inhumane treatment of the village’s Muslim inhabitants.

They have all pleaded innocent to the charges, which carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The trial is the sixth in progress at the U.N. court, which was set up in 1993 to prosecute those responsible for atrocities in the wars in the former Yugoslavia. The case is expected to last months.

The defendants were allegedly rank-and-file soldiers in the Croatian Defense Council militia. The force’s regional commander, Gen. Tihomir Blaskic, is also on trial at the tribunal, charged with planning and organizing a systematic campaign of terror aimed at driving Muslims out of the entire region surrounding Ahmici.

Two war criminals have been convicted and sentenced by the 11-judge court. Its two most-wanted suspects, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his wartime military chief, Gen. Ratko Mladic, remain at large.

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