%mlink(STRY:; PHOTO:; AUDIO:%)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ Volunteer Serb paramilitaries, armed and financed by Slobodan Milosevic's regime, massacred Croat civilians at the start of the Croatian war, a former police chief testified Monday.

Djuro Matovina, former head of the Croatian police in the town of Slatina, said nationalist Serb groups in his district received weapons from the former Yugoslav army, which came under Milosevic's control.

Matovina gave evidence as a prosecution witness at the war crimes tribunal in the second part of the former president's trial on the 1991-1995 conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia.

Last month, the prosecution completed the first part, covering alleged crimes in 1999 in Kosovo. He faces a total of 66 counts of war crimes.

Before the Croatian war started in 1991, Matovina said the Croat police had been instructed by the Yugoslav federation to avoid an escalation of ethnic tension.

In December 1991, six months after Croatia declared independence, Serbian volunteer forces known as the White Eagles massacred 45 civilians in the village of Vocin and other nearby towns, he said. Then the village was destroyed, Matovina said.

In another massacre in September 1991, two policemen and 22 civilians were killed, including three women. ``They were killed by firearms from close range. Some were stabbed,'' he said.

Milosevic, who is defending himself, sought to turn the tables on the witness during cross-examination, asking Matovina about his role in the persecution of Serbs in Croatia.

``You became a vehicle for violence against Serbs and you participated in arrests and detention of more than 400 Serbs,'' Milosevic alleged.

``It is not true,'' Matovina replied. ``I have Serb friends to this day.''

Matovina denied Milosevic's claim that Serb villages had been leveled to the ground by Croat forces. ``These villages are still standing,'' Matovina said. ``You can go and take a look.''

In another courtroom of the Yugoslav tribunal, judges acquitted Bosnian Serb general Stanislav Galic of responsibility for three sniping incidents in Sarajevo, but rejected a defense motion for acquittal on all charges involving another 23 sniping incidents during the three-year siege of the city.

Galic faces seven counts of war crimes, including ordering his snipers and artillery gunners to fire on civilians in Sarajevo. He pleaded innocent, claiming he never knew those incidents happened.