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Acquittals in Mladic Shelter Trial
After four years of legal proceedings, ten people accused of providing a hideout for Hague fugitive Ratko Mladic have been acquitted by a court in Belgrade.
The defendants were accused of helping Mladic evade justice from 2002 until 2006, but the judges acquitted them last week after ruling that their guilt had not been established beyond reasonable doubt.
Former officers of the Republika Srpska Army, VRS, Marko Lugonja and Ratko Vucetic, retired officers of the Yugoslav Army, VJ, Stanko Ristic and Blagoje Govedarica, as well as Sasa Badnjar, Predrag Ristic, Borisav Ivanovic, Tatjana Vaskovic and her mother and brother, Ljiljana and Bojan Vaskovic, were all acquitted of providing shelter for Mladic.
Govedarica was found guilty of the illegal possession of weapons and sentenced to six months in prison and two years on parole.
The prosecution announced that it would appeal to the high court, while the defendants’ lawyers announced that they would sue the Serbian state and ask for hefty compensation because of the time their clients spent in detention.
The defendants were arrested in 2006 and kept in custody for eight months, but were later released and allowed to remain at liberty during the proceedings.
Originally, 11 people were indicted, but the first accused, former VRS officer Jovo Djogo, died last year.
During the trial, all the accused denied hiding Mladic. The only person from this group to have admitted to doing so was Lugonja who told the Belgrade court that Mladic had hidden in his flat in Vladimira Popovica street in Belgrade for five or six days.
During the trial, Belgrade media reported that the police had managed to intercept several of Mladic’s telephone conversations in which he allegedly threatened to kill the families of his aides if they revealed his whereabouts to the police.
Lugonja told the judges that he was pressured into allowing Mladic to stay in his flat.
Some Serbian officials have admitted that arresting the group in 2006 had been a mistake – that they should have been placed under surveillance.
Last year, Rasim Ljajic, president of Serbia’s national council for cooperation with the Hague tribunal, said that “it would have been much better if those associates had been used as a potential trace leading to Mladic”.
According to Ljajic, in 2006 Serbia was under great pressure from the Hague tribunal, which accused it of doing little to locate and arrest the remaining fugitives from the tribunal’s list, including Mladic.
During the trial, the testimony of former Yugoslav army lieutenant colonel Srboljub Nikolic attracted a lot of media attention after he claimed that ten years ago almost all Serbia’s top military and state officials knew that Mladic was living in Serbia.
The trial chamber also heard that until June 2002, when the law on cooperation with the Hague tribunal was introduced, Mladic was allowed to live in the military barracks in Belgrade.
Aleksander Roknic is an IWPR-trained reporter in Belgrade.
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