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COURTSIDE: Bosanka Krajina Trial

Lawyers clash over evidence in genocide trial
By Chris Stephen

Prosecution and defence lawyers in the genocide trial of Radoslav Brdjanin clashed last week over the right of the defendant to see interviews of prosecution witnesses.


Brdjanin, former head of a Serb ad-hoc local council, the crisis staff, is accused of genocide for allegedly helping mastermind the ethnic cleansing of northern Bosnia in the summer of 1992.


Last week, defence counsel John Ackerman filed a motion demanding to see transcripts of all prosecution interviews, including those where the interviewee is not subsequently called as a witness. He said the transcripts may contain evidence that would help his case.


Prosecutor Joanna Korner said she had already passed on useful information. "It's against me personally that these accusations are being made," she said. "If I were deliberately withholding I would not be disclosing at all."


But Ackerman insisted he made the request in good faith, "This is clearly not a wild allegation. This has a very sound and significant basis. I have no ulterior motive other than to give my client a fair trial."


Korner admitted that some transcripts had been handed to the defence team late, but said these were technical delays. "I take the greatest possible exception to the constant allegations of deliberate prosecutorial misconduct. There is no foundation to these allegations other than they look good in print," she said. "Each time these allegations are made I have to stand up and rebut this slur to my professional integrity and I really take exception to this."


But Ackerman said the delay was important, "I mean, who's running the show in the prosecution office if she isn't?"


And he said more time would be needed to study the transcripts if judges ruled in his favour, "We have information that as many as thirty or forty witnesses have been interviewed, I believe that to be the case," he said. "I was told there might be a million pages."


The judges will give an answer to the defence request when the trial resumes on October 28.


Earlier, Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) witness Nisret Tikovic told of how, when his village was surrounded by Serb forces at the start of the Bosnian war in 1992, he saw three Serb soldiers break into the house of an elderly couple. In the morning, he found them both dead.


"His wife, my apologies, did not have her underwear on. Of course she had been raped. Her dress had been ripped to pieces," he said.


He ran to a Serb checkpoint to complain, but a friendly officer told him if he did so, he was likely to be shot. "That officer, I do not want to say his name in case he is still a soldier. He asked me to please not say who had killed them because then I would be killed the next evening," he said.


Bosnian Croat Jakov Maric said he was transported to the Manjaca detention camp in a truck so full of prisoners it was impossible to breathe, "On the journey 24 men died. Some men had these small bottles. They urinated in these so they could drink the urine. Three people told me to write the names and escort the 24 dead to be buried."


Moving from a school that served as a temporary jail to a truck for the final journey, Serb soldiers formed something called "The gauntlet", which involved troops standing in two lines, hitting the prisoners as they ran between. "Many had broken ribs, hands, teeth knocked out, we had to run the gauntlet. Who could not go quickly got some more beatings and ended on the ground."


But this was only the start of his ordeal. In Manjaca camp, which Brdjanin is accused of helping set up, beatings were routine, "People hit you whenever they could. You give somebody a dirty look and you would get beaten-up. That was just normal."


Brdjanin is charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and violations of the laws and customs of war. He has pleaded not guilty.


Chris Stephen, IWPR Bureau Chief in The Hague.