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World Court Case Spotlights Serbia’s Role During Bosnian War

April 28, 1996

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ In a case that will spotlight Serbia’s role in the Bosnian war, the World Court begins hearings this week on genocide charges leveled against Belgrade by the Bosnian government.

Bosnia claims Serbia has ``extensively violated″ the 1948 Paris Convention Against Genocide, marking the first time a nation has been charged with genocide before the U.N. court.

A guilty verdict could undermine the Bosnian peace process by paving the way for the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal to indict Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who is widely blamed for having instigated the Bosnian war but is now seen as a vital peacemaker.

Milosevic’s regime is working to distance itself from its past militant nationalism, and on Saturday one of his country’s courts sent three former Serb paramilitary fighters to prison for war crimes.

The regional court in Sremska Mitrovica sentenced Goran Vukovic and Pavle Draskovic to 10 and 15 years in prison for the 1993 murders of four ethnic Croats in Serbia’s northern villages of Kukujevci and Sot.

The court also sentenced Milan Nikolic to 3 1/2 years in prison for ``inciting nationalist and religious hatred,″ Belgrade BK TV reported.

The World Court, formally the International Court of Justice, handles complaints between nations, while the tribunal, which functions separately, deals with individuals.

The World Court case has been largely overshadowed by impending war crimes prosecutions of individuals, most of them Bosnian Serbs, by the tribunal.

The nation-against-nation proceedings at the World Court will likely focus directly on the political and military policies of Milosevic’s government in Belgrade, the Yugoslav and Serbian capital.

While the Belgrade link is widely alleged, no clear evidence has emerged of Serbia’s hand guiding Bosnian Serb forces.

Monday’s hearing is to begin with Serbia challenging the court’s jurisdiction and claiming the war was an internal matter not covered by the Genocide Convention.

In a press statement, Bosnia said it will prove Belgrade’s ``active, substantial and leading role in the war″ with documents recently seized by the Bosnian government from areas evacuated by the Bosnian Serbs.

But Serbia, which together with Montenegro now comprises Yugoslavia, has denied responsibility for the Bosnian Serb rebels and maintains the 43-month conflict was strictly a civil war.

``An issue that still exists is the question to what extend Serbia as a state was involved in the conflict,″ said World Court expert Terry Gill, a professor of international law at Utrecht University.

``If you can prove that Serbia was responsible, that sort of equals an indictment of Milosevic,″ said Gill.

Serbia-based paramilitary units were seen in Bosnia fighting on the Serb side during the war, although Serbia could argue that they did so without official sanction.

According to credible reports, supplies were shipped from Serbia throughout much of the war. It is also widely accepted that much of the Bosnian Serb military leadership was paid by Belgrade.

The Serb-dominated Yugoslav army withdrew from Bosnia in early 1992, leaving its equipment behind for the Bosnian Serbs. Serbia’s media also helped whip up ethnic nationalist support for Bosnia’s Serbs.

After the genocide case was filed in March 1993, the World Court issued two emergency orders for Serbia to do everything it could to prevent acts of genocide against Bosnians.

But the court has no enforcement powers. Nations abide by its rulings voluntarily.

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