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COURTSIDE: Bosanski Samac Trial

Serbs claim town was ethnically cleansed in "self defence".

The Bosnian Serb politician accused of the ethnic cleansing of Bosanski Samac claimed in a 1992 televised interview that the town's Serbs were merely defending themselves against Bosniak extremists, the court was told last week.

The programme, which was shown in the trial chamber, featured defendant Simo Zaric saying that documents found in the town proved the far-right paramilitary Croatian Defence Force, HOS, and a similar Bosniak force called the Green Berets had planned to take control of the town and "slaughter" Serbian people.

Zaric said the evidence was found at the apartment of Alija Fitozovic, alleged to be a coordinator of the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action's defensive preparations. Zaric said the Yugoslav army, the police and Serbian paramilitary groups had prevented genocide.

Testifying last week, Fitozovic responded to Zaric's 1992 accusation on Serbian television that he was behind a planned armed uprising in Bosanski Samac. "We had no plan. I do not know why should we make a plan to take over Bosanski Samac. Samac was a free town, for Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs," he said.

Fitozovic admitted possessing a quantity of weapons and lists of territorial defence members, but said the units had never been formed.

After a closed hearing, the court ruled that Simic be tried separately from his fellow accused Zaric and two other defendants Blagoje Simic and and Miroslav Tadic. The president of the trial chamber, Florence Mumba, ordered the prosecution to submit an amended indictment as soon as possible.

Milan Simic is partially paralysed and has been taking part in the trial via audio-link from his cell, as his health is too poor for him to spend hours in a wheelchair in the courtroom.

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