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Courtside: Halilovic Case

By Vjera Bogati in The Hague (TU 300, (10-15 February 2003)

Ekkerhard Withopf made his remarks following Halilovic's description of a conversation he had had with his defence team.

The defendant told the court that attorney Faruk Balijagic had instructed him to show "willingness to cooperate" with the prosecution, on the grounds that the lawyer had reached an agreement with chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte to "withdraw the indictment after some time".

Halilovic is accused of crimes against Croat civilians in the Hercegovinian villages of Grabovica and Uzdol, which were allegedly committed by troops under his command in September 1993.

Although defendants on temporary release from The Hague do not normally attend status conferences, Judge O-Gon Kwon asked Halilovic to travel from Sarajevo on this occasion so that he could take part in a discussion of delays in this procedure and frequent changes of defence attorneys.

In a letter sent to the court in the middle of January, Halilovic requested the dismisal of Turkish attorney Bakir Chalar and the appointment of Ahmed Hodzic from Sarajevo as his head defence attorney.

The prosecution opposed this request, and suggested that an experienced tribunal defence attorney be appointed.

Stating that the defence has been eight months behind schedule in its preparation of the pre-trial brief, Withopf emphasised that Chalar has not yet taken the key evidence materials necessary for adequate preparation for the trial.

The problem seemed to be that these materials were in the English language, while Chalar could only use French. Expressing doubts that Hodzic - another non-English speaker - would be able to prepare for the trial in time, the prosecutor reminded the hearing that this was the fifth defence attorney Halilovic has requested during the past eight months.

The secretariat will make a decision on Halilovic's request for change of his chief counsel and additional members of the defence team in due course.

Judge Kwon once again extended the deadline given to the defence to submit the pre-trial brief, which should be completed by March 24.

Vjera Bogati is an IWPR correspondent in The Hague and a journalist with SENSE news agency.

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