COURTSIDE: Martic Trial

Former Croat Serb leader admits ordering deadly rocket attacks on civilians.

COURTSIDE: Martic Trial

Former Croat Serb leader admits ordering deadly rocket attacks on civilians.

Milan Martic, former president of the self-proclaimed Republika Srpska Krajina, RSK, last week admitted to launching missile attacks on Zagreb but his defence is likely to argue that it was a legitimate action.

Asked to enter a plea in his first appearance before the tribunal, one week after turning himself in, Martic said, "I do not feel guilty and further explanations as to why...will be given by my defence."

Martic confessed to a series of rocket attacks on Zagreb on May 2 and 3, 1995, that killed seven civilians and wounded more than 200. The attacks were carried out by Orkan rockets with "cassette bombs", which the indictment said were "intended exclusively to kill people".

Martic was then president of the self-proclaimed Krajina state and, as supreme commander of its military, was "obliged to observe the law and customs which pertain to war", the court was told. The prosecution says Martic violated these laws.

This is not the first time Martic has admitted to the attacks. At a public hearing of the indictment before the tribunal in February 1996, statements were presented or cited in which he confessed to ordering the action.

In one radio interview, he had said, "I have nothing to hide. I personally issued this order, as a retaliation against (former Croatian president Franjo) Tudjman and his ilk."

His defence, led by Belgrade attorney Strahinja Kastratovic, will most likely be based on the claim that the attack was a "legitimate" reaction to Operation Bljesak, which the Croats launched on May 1, 1995, in western Slavonia.

The trial chamber that confirmed his indictment and issued an international warrant for his arrest considered this claim before ruling that retaliation against civilians is prohibited in all circumstances.

The indictment for the attack on Zagreb is not the prosecution's last word on the ex-president of the RSK. After the plea was entered, the prosecutor announced a modified indictment was in preparation, charging Martic with other crimes.

Martic is also mentioned in the indictment of Slobodan Milosevic as an accomplice, or participant, in a "joint criminal enterprise" in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Mirko Klarin is IWPR senior editor at the war crimes tribunal and editor-in-chief of SENSE News Agency.

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