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Judge In Trial Of Renegade Soldiers Says 23 Civilians Were Killed

October 25, 1994

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ The mutilated corpses of at least 23 civilians, allegedly killed by renegade Bosnian soldiers, have been found in ravines near Sarajevo.

The murder toll was made public for the first time Tuesday when a military court judge presiding over the trial of the soldiers displayed documents and photographs gathered in an investigation that began last year.

But the number could be higher, because some of the victims’ bodies may never be found, Judge Muhamed Podruga said.

The 13 defendants are believed to be the first group of combatants to be tried by their own government for atrocities committed during the nearly 3 years of war in the former Yugoslavia. They are accused of having rounded up and killed several people, mostly ethnic Serbs from Sarajevo, last year.

But the victims also included members of Sarajevo’s other main ethnic groups - Muslims and Croats - and the motive for the killings is unknown.

Bosnian police conducted commando-style raids against the renegade soldiers on Oct. 26, 1993. Streets were sealed off, and some 100 soldiers were arrested. Seven Bosnian policemen were captured, killed and mutilated by the renegades during the operation.

Soon after the crackdown, government investigators started discovering corpses dumped near the front lines in ravines on Mount Trebevic on the southern outskirts of Sarajevo.

″This case is dragging, it is very complicated and everything is mixed up,″ Podruga said. ″We don’t have enough proof and evidence.″

Documents provided by investigators showed gruesome photos of the corpses. Most had been mutilated and some decapitated. The majority were badly decomposed.

Only four victims have been positively identified.

In one case, the prosecution had eyewitness testimony of a murder by one of the defendants, but will have difficulty proving the charge because no body was found.

Eighteen suspects were arrested initially in connection with the murders. Three were released for lack of evidence, and two more were freed Tuesday.

One of the released defendants was Emir Topalovic, brother of a renegade leader, Musan Topalovic. Known as Caco (Tsat-so), he was shot dead shortly after his arrest - during an escape attempt, authorities said.

The charges against the renegade soldiers were announced in April, and court officials said Tuesday that several sessions of the trial have been held since then. The session this week is the first to attract wide publicity.

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