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COURTSIDE: Bobetko Indictment

Proceedings against 83-year-old former army chief of staff begin.

The indictment against former Croat army chief of staff General Janko Bobetko was finally unsealed in The Hague last week.

The 83-year-old general is accused of committing crimes against Serb civilians and prisoners of war in the so-called Medak Pocket, in the Krajina region of Croatia, in 1993.

General Rahim Ademi was indicted for the same incidents last year. He was temporarily released pending his trial. Ademi commanded the Croatian army in the Gospic area, at the time of the crimes enumerated in the indictment.

At least 100 local Serbs, 29 of which were civilians, were killed in the Medak operation and many others wounded, according to the indictment. It is alleged that Croatian forces also destroyed local property.

The operation, which was carried out by army and special police units in a Serb enclave, began on September 9, 1993. After two days of fighting, Croat forces captured the villages of Divosela, Citluk and Pocitelj.

However, following international intervention, Bobetko ordered his subordinate General Petar Stipetic to sign a ceasefire agreement with the local Serbs on September 15.

While the Croat army withdrew two days later, the killings and systematic destruction of property had rendered the area uninhabitable.

The indictment alleges cruel treatment of Serb civilians and prisoners, including the mutilation of body parts, shootings, stabbings, beatings and the tying bodies to a car and dragging them along the road.

It claims that women were tortured, and includes the cases of Boja Pjevac and Boja Vujnovic, who were allegedly burned alive. These incidents - as well as intimidating messages daubed on the walls of houses - forced the Serbs out of the area for good.

The majority of buildings in the Medak Pocket - some 164 homes and 148 barns and outbuildings - were destroyed by fire and explosives after Croat forces took control.

Much of the destruction occurred between the ceasefire and the Croat withdrawal. It is alleged that the remaining Serbian property was looted and damaged, while livestock was killed and wells poisoned.

The indictment holds Bobetko responsible by virtue of his rank as chief of staff and claims that he played a central role in developing, planning, authorising, ordering and/or executing the operation.

The prosecutor said Bobetko "not only had reason to know" forces under him were responsible for the alleged crimes, but also "knew of such acts, having been informed by senior subordinates within the [army] and representatives of the international community". It is claimed that he failed to take necessary and reasonable measures to prevent such acts, or punish the perpetrators.

The former army commander is charged with crimes against humanity, which include persecution on political, racial or religious grounds - perpetrated through unlawful killings and systematic destruction - and of violations of the laws and customs of war.

Vjera Bogati is an IWPR special correspondent at The Hague and a journalist with SENSE News Agency.

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