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Bosnia Tribunal Tries Two Muslim Officers

December 2, 2003

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ Two Muslim officers accused of committing war crimes during the Bosnian war went on trial Tuesday, the first time Muslims have faced justice for atrocities in a conflict often seen as fomented by Serbs.

Retired Gen. Enver Hadzihasanovic, 53, commanded the 3rd Corps of the Muslim army in central Bosnia during the 1992-95 conflict. Amir Kubura, 39, was a subordinate brigade commander.

Prosecutors at the U.N. tribunal in The Hague have charged the men with the murders of civilians and prisoners of war; the horrific mistreatment of prisoners; and the plundering and destruction of villages in central Bosnia. If convicted, they face up to life in prison.

The men have pleaded innocent to all charges. Their lawyers declined to make opening statements.

``This is a case about command responsibility, about the criminal responsibility of the two accused for failing to prevent and punish war crimes by their subordinates,″ U.N. prosecutor Ekkehard Withopf said in his opening arguments.

``It demonstrates that all sides to the conflict _ though in different areas and on different scales _ committed violations in humanitarian law.″

The war in Bosnia, just as the earlier war in Croatia, began after the country declared independence from Yugoslavia and the country’s Serb minority rebelled. The Bosnian Serbs fought with the backing of the Serb-dominated federal Yugoslav army, hoping to remain part of a larger Serb-dominated Yugoslavia or Serbian state.

The tribunal was set up to prosecute high-ranking suspects of war crimes committed by all sides during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, though in practice most suspects have been ethnic Serbs and a handful of Croats. Hadzihasanovic and Kubura are the first Muslims to go on trial, though others have been indicted.

Most of the victims of their alleged crimes were ethnic Croats captured after fighting broke out between Bosnian Muslims and Croats in March 1993 over the 30 percent of Bosnia not then under Serb control.

However, Withopf described one incident on Oct. 20, 1993, when Serb prisoner Dragan Popovic was beheaded by foreign Muslim ``mujahedeen″ troops who allegedly answered to Hadzihasanovic. Other prisoners allegedly were then forced to kiss the severed head before the body was buried.

Withopf also described a makeshift prison in a former music school in the town of Zenica where Muslim guards allegedly took Croat prisoners outside for nightly ``singing lessons.″

Instead, they were beaten with ``rifle butts, metal hooks, wooden sticks and handles, batons, truncheons, knuckle-dusters, wooden staves, boots and telephone cables,″ Withopf said. Other prisoners were forced to beat themselves and each other, he said.

Withopf also described a June 8, 1993, massacre involving Muslim soldiers who marched a group of captured Croat soldiers and civilians from the city of Maline to another location. When one prisoner started screaming, ``3rd Corps soldiers, subordinated to both the accused, then shot at the group with automatic rifles, from very close range, executing at least 24 of them,″ he said.

Withopf said survivors would testify at the trial, which is scheduled to run through July.

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