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Court Round-up: Bosnian Croat Appeals 45-Year Term

By Stacy Sullivan in The Hague (TU 337, 13 December 2003)

Blaskic's lawyers appealed the sentence handed down in 2000 - one of the harshest in the tribunal's history - on the grounds that crucial evidence that was not available during his trial will show that the former Bosnian Croat military commander is innocent.

The new evidence is said to be contained in documents uncovered in the basement of Croatia's intelligence service shortly after the death of Croatian president Franjo Tudjman in 2000. According to defence counsel Russel Hayman, the documents reveal that Blaskic was not responsible for the atrocities committed in Bosnia because he did not control the units that did the killing.

Blaskic's lawyers say members of Tudjman's nationalist government were trying to protect those responsible for the crimes, and therefore did not make the potentially exculpatory evidence available during the trial.

The prosecution has stated repeatedly that there is nothing new in the previously undisclosed evidence. They say the sentence should be upheld because there are no grounds to appeal.

Blaskic, commander of Bosnian Croat troops in central Bosnia between 1992 and 1994, surrendered voluntarily to the tribunal in 1996 when President Tudjman was still in power, and pleaded not guilty to 20 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Among the most serious charges was that troops under Blaskic's command massacred more than 100 Muslim civilians in the village of Ahmici in April 1993.

As the appeal hearing got under way, lawyers for the defence and prosecution clashed repeatedly, in some of the most aggressive exchanges the court has heard to date.

The hearing - which is expected to involve seven witnesses and the review of about 100 documents by the time it finishes - is expected to conclude on December 17.

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