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Bosnia War Crimes Trial Begins

July 6, 1998

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ A Bosnian Serb accused of orchestrating atrocities against Muslims and Croats at three prison camps went on trial today in the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal’s first genocide case.

Milan Kovacevic, 57, is charged with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in atrocities committed around Prijedor in northwest Bosnia in 1992.

He has pleaded innocent to all 15 charges. If convicted, he faces a maximum life sentence.

His trial, the U.N. court’s seventh, will publicize alleged atrocities in three of Bosnia’s most infamous prison camps: Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje.

In her opening arguments, prosecutor Brenda Hollis said camp guards ``were free to kill, torture and rape.″

``In Omarska, people saw corpses every day ... killings were routine in Keraterm,″ she said.

There were so many dead bodies at Omarska that large trucks were needed at times to remove them from the camp, Hollis said.

Hollis said Kovacevic, an anesthesiologist, was among municipal officials who engineered a violent campaign to expel Bosnian Muslims and Croats from Prijedor between April and December 1992.

Kovacevic was vice president of a group that ordered attacks on non-Serb villages, the seizure and detention of Bosnian Muslims and Croats, and the establishment of prison camps.

Prosecutors say the alleged atrocities began with heavy artillery attacks on non-Serb villages. Some of those who survived the attacks were executed. Others were rounded up and taken to one of the camps, where hundreds were tortured and killed by their Serb captors.

Hollis said prosecution witnesses would include camp survivors, a rape victim, a journalist who visited Omarska and documents that will establish Kovacevic’s leadership during the alleged crimes.

Kovacevic’s lawyer, Dusan Vucicevic, said his client did not harbor ill feelings toward other ethnic groups. ``The charge of genocide is improper and it can’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,″ Vucicevic said.

Kovacevic, who was the director of the Prijedor Medical Center before his arrest, was detained last summer by NATO troops.

He is the first tribunal defendant to stand trial on genocide charges, but he is not the only suspect facing that charge.

The tribunal also has indicted former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his wartime military commander, Ratko Mladic, for genocide and war crimes. The two men remain at large.

The tribunal, set up in 1993 by the U.N. Security Council, has publicly indicted 60 people for alleged war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and has issued an unknown number of secret indictments. Twenty-seven suspects are in custody.

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