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COURTSIDE: Biljana Takes Her Leave

Tribunal judges rule that Plavsic and Serbia are a safer bet than Krajisnik and Republika Srpska.
By Mirko Klarin

Co-defendants facing the same charges received very different treatment in a hearing in the Trial Chamber last week.


Biljana Plavsic's request for provisional release pending trial was granted. She has been given the right to stay in Belgrade until her trial on genocide charges begins next year. The request by Momcilo Krajisnik, however, for a few days' leave to Bosnia and Herzegovina, was refused.


Plavsic, the former RS president, sought extended leave from The Hague, while Krajisnik, former RS member of the Bosnian presidency, requested a three-day absence to attend the memorial service in Pale of his recently deceased father. The authorities in Serbian and Bosnian Serb authorities provided written assurances that Plavsic and Krajisnik respectively would not be allowed to violate their release conditions.


Both governments undertook similar obligations: that the defendants would be under 24-hour police surveillance; would be prevented from contacting potential witnesses in their respective cases; and would be instantly arrested and extradited to The Hague, should they attempt escape, refuse to return or violate other release conditions.


The Belgrade government's guarantees, presented last week by Justice Minister Vladan Batic, removed the prosecution's last remaining reservations. Initially, Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte had not opposed Plavsic's provisional release, but insisted she must remain in The Netherlands, the tribunal's host country. Dutch representatives were accordingly summoned to attend Plavsic's release hearing. After obtaining Belgrade's guarantees, however, Del Ponte withdrew her objections and Plavsic was free to return to Serbia.


Though largely identical to Belgrade's, Banja Luka's guarantees failed to persuade Krajisnik's judges that the defendant would return were he allowed to travel to Pale. Explaining the Trial Chamber's two-to-one decision against freeing Krajisnik (Judge Patrick Robinson voted in favour), Judge Richard May, presiding, stressed that the RS guarantees would have carried greater weight if Banja Luka had previously arrested and extradited a single national accused of war crimes. Since it had not, May continued, the judges remained unconvinced that it would observe the terms of the guarantee and arrest Krajisnik should he violate his release conditions.


But there were also private reasons why Plavsic received preferential treatment. She had surrendered voluntarily as soon as she learned of the tribunal's indictment against her and, throughout her enforced stay in The Hague, expressed respect towards the court, giving a statement to investigators and cooperating with the prosecution in other ways. Last week, Del Ponte even raised the prospect of Plavsic testifying in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic as a prosecution witness.


By contrast, Krajisnik had been dragged to The Hague by SFOR forces, displayed contempt in his dealings with the tribunal and refused to cooperate with the prosecution. This conduct did little to persuade the judges that he would willingly return to The Hague after visiting Pale.


The trial of Plavsic and Krajisnik is expected to open in the first months of 2002. If - as the prosecution fervently hopes - Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic are placed in custody before then, the charges against Pale's political and military top echelon are likely to be joined into a single case. This might further postpone the trial of Plavsic for genocide, and hence her return from Belgrade to The Hague.


Mirko Klarin is IWPR senior editor for the war crimes tribunal and editor-in-chief of SENSE News Agency.