COURTSIDE: Bosanski Samac Trial

Year-long prosecution case comes to an end.

COURTSIDE: Bosanski Samac Trial

Year-long prosecution case comes to an end.

Saturday, 7 September, 2002

After the prosecution wrapped up its year-long case last week against the men charged with crimes against non-Serbs in Bosanski Samac, the defence announced that it is to file a request for a "not guilty" verdict.

The three accused - Blagoje Simic, president of the wartime Samac Serb crisis staff, Miroslav Tadic, president of the local Serb Commission for (population) Exchange and Simo Zaric, commander of the Serb paramilitary unit the Fourth Detachment - are charged with grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, violations of laws and customs of war, and crimes against humanity.

The prosecution claims the trio's alleged crimes were intended to establish Serb control over Samac after April 17, 1992, by cleansing the area of its Muslims and Croats.

It is standard international court procedure for the defence to file for the release of the defendants after the prosecution has completed its case. The team is expected to argue that the evidence presented by the prosecution is not substantial enough to warrant conviction.

If the trial chamber turns down the request, the defence will open its case on October 21. The team does not dispute that the events listed in the indictment took place, but questions their clients' role in them.

Three more men were originally included in the Samac indictment, one of whom - Slobodan "Lugar" Miljkovic, commander of a paramilitary unit called the Grey Wolves - was killed in 1998 in a private feud in Serbia.

The other two have since admitted their guilt. Stevan Todorovic, a local police chief whose nickname was Monstrum (monster), was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment while Milan Simic, president of Samac's executive board, pleaded guilty at the end of August and is awaiting sentence.

Their pleas followed a series of prosecution witnesses who described the horrors they allegedly suffered in Bosanski Samac after the takeover. They claimed they had been robbed, abused, used as forced labour, forcefully mobilised or exchanged. The same testimonies have been used against the remaining three accused.

Defence counsel Igor Pantelic last week expressed doubts about the "similarity" between the testimonies of a group of witnesses, and asked the court to inspect their waiting room in the building.

The lawyer said he suspected these witnesses had some means of monitoring the trial proceedings. The prosecution rejected the allegation and, after a break in proceedings, presiding judge Florence Mumba also turned down Pantelic's request.

The defence has announced that if its case begins in October, it will focus on proving the conflict in Samac did not have an international character - in which case the charge of violations of the Geneva Conventions would not be applicable.

It will also seek to prove that Serb forces consisting of the JNA, the Fourth Detachment and other paramilitary units did not attack Samac but defended it from a Muslim attack.

The defence team is to contest the prosecution's account of the area's pre- and post-war population, which claims that less than 300 Muslims and Croats resided in Bosanski Samac in 1995 compared to a population of some 17,000 four years previously.

Mirna Jancic is an IWPR assistant editor

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