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Fighter Denies Raping Muslim Women

July 5, 2000

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ A Bosnian Serb, accused of taking four Muslim women from a sports hall and molesting them during the Bosnian war, denied on Wednesday he raped them and said he ``was shocked″ when first told of the allegations.

Dragoljub Kunarac, who reportedly headed a local paramilitary group and is also accused of handing over women to his troops for sex, testified at an international war crimes trial on charges of sexual enslavement.

Kunarac is one of three Bosnian Serb fighters charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for the rape, torture and enslavement of women and girls in the southeast Bosnian town of Foca in the summer of 1992.

The trial is the first prosecution of wartime sexual enslavement before an international tribunal. Defense lawyers admit that rapes took place in the Foca area, but deny their clients were guilty of war crimes.

Prosecutors are trying to prove the rapes were committed in a systematic manner in an ``ethnic cleansing″ campaign to frighten local Muslims into flight from territories conquered by Serb forces.

Kunarac told the U.N. tribunal that he first heard the allegations on Aug. 3, 1992, from a Bosnian Serb journalist, Gordana Draskovic, who told him four women had claimed they were forced to have sex with Kunarac and soldiers under his control.

``I was shocked,″ Kunarac said, staring straight at the three judges from the witness stand. ``I could not understand whether she was pulling my leg or whether she was actually telling the truth.″

Kunarac testified that he told the reporter: ``I had nothing to do with all of this whatsoever.″

In the trial now in its fourth month, 16 Muslim women have testified they were raped and mutilated day and night by rifle-wielding soldiers.

Four witnesses have identified Kunarac as one of the men who raped them. The three names Kunarac said he remembered matched those of the accusers.

The indictment alleges Kunarac removed the four women from a makeshift detention center at the Partizan sports hall and raped them several times between July 13 and Aug. 1.

Once Kunarac had sex with a girl identified as D.B. while another was handed over to 15 soldiers who raped her for three hours straight, the indictment alleged.

After surrendering to the tribunal in March 1998, Kunarac pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a Muslim girl. Judges later changed the plea to innocent, ruling he didn’t understand the charges.

The former Yugoslav army explosives expert said he was on mine clearing and reconnaissance missions near Foca from July 13 to Aug. 2 _ the time of the alleged rapes.

He said the first time he went to the sports hall was on Aug. 3 to confront his accusers. He said he took them out of the hall and questioned them for less than half an hour.

I wanted ``to learn the truth to see who these people were who had mistreated them or linked me with these events,″ Kunarac said.

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