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COURTSIDE: Strugar Trial

First Yugoslav army general appears in The Hague
By Mirko Klarin

The first Yugoslav general to be tried by the tribunal made his initial appearance last week, pleading not guilty to a series of crimes committed during the siege of the Croatian port of Dubrovnik in autumn 1991.

Together with Vice-Admirals Miodrag Jokic and Milan Zec and Captain Vladimir Kovacevic, known as Rambo, Pave Strugar is charged with 16 counts of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and violations of the law or customs of war for crimes committed by the forces under his command.

The former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic is accused of the same crimes in the tribunal's recently issued Croatia indictment. The former president of Montenegro, Momir Bulatovic, who is still under investigation by the prosecutor, is also cited in the indictment.

Strugar - the first Yugoslav citizen to surrender voluntarily to The Hague - was appointed commander of the army's Second Operational Group, set up by the JNA to conduct the campaign against Dubrovnik, in October 1991.

That year three months of shelling killed at least 43 civilians in Dubrovnik and damaged two-thirds of the old buildings in the UNESCO-designated "World Cultural Heritage" site.

When the tribunal's seal was removed from the Dubrovnik indictment on October 2, Strugar was revealed to be living in Montenegro, in clear contradiction of the Podgorica government's claims that no indictees were sheltering in the country for months. Strugar promptly surrendered himself voluntarily to prove his innocence.

Though suffering from health problems, which his defence counsel Goran Rodic said had not received treatment for the first five days of his detention, the general treated judge Almiro Rodrigues with notable respect during his 70-minute hearing.

The general's behaviour contrasted starkly with the behaviouRs or ex-commander in chief of the same army, Slobodan Milosevic, who continues to deny the legitimacy of the court and has refused to appoint a defence counsel.

The trial continues.

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