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Dubrovnik indictment

Prosecutors confirm existence of sealed indictment for Dubrovnik crimes

In a departure from normal practice, the Office of the Prosecutor, OTP, revealed last week that a sealed indictment had been prepared for the attacks on Dubrovnik and its environs ten years ago.

In the past, the OTP has refused to disclose any information likely to confirm or deny the existence of sealed indictments for crimes under the tribunal's jurisdiction.

A March 1 OTP press release said Judge Patricia Wald had confirmed the indictment and issued an order limiting public disclosure on Tuesday, February 27, 2001.

Under limited disclosure, neither the names of the accused nor the specific charges against them can be made public. The OTP's statement did not offer any explanation as to why prosecutors were departing from normal practice for sealed indictments.

"Several individuals have been charged with grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and violations of the laws and customs of war arising from attacks made by the Yugoslav Peoples Army [JNA] on the Dubrovnik region between 1 October and 31 December 1991," the OTP statement said.

"The specific offences in the 16-count indictment include murder, cruel treatment, attacks on civilians, devastation not justified by military necessity, unlawful attacks on civilian objects, destruction of historic monuments, wanton destruction of villages, and plunder of public and private property."

That the indictment includes charges of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions indicates prosecutors are confident of proving the Dubrovnik crimes were committed within the context of an international conflict.

The only other known indictment for crimes committed in 1991, the first year of the war in former Yugoslavia, is the so-called Vukovar Indictment, in which three officers of the former JNA were accused of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.

Veselin Sljivancanin, Mile Mrksic and Miroslav Radic are charged with committing crimes near Vukovar in November 1991. The three are still at large, probably in Serbia, and it remains to be seen whether the courts view the conflict as international or internal.

The European Community officially recognised Croatia as an independent country on January 15, 1992 - after the period covered in the Vukovar and Dubrovnik indictments.

Keeping indictments under seal is designed to facilitate the arrest of suspects. The indictments and arrest warrants are handed over to the authorities in the countries where the accused are either known or believed to be resident.

The OTP has refused, however, to comment on which countries have received the Dubrovnik indictment and arrest warrants.

Given units of the Montenegrin Territorial Defence played a key role in the JNA's offensive against the city, it seems safe to assume Podgorica has received the paperwork.

Individuals named in the indictment may also be elsewhere in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and eastern parts of Republika Srpska.

The Dubrovnik indictment presents Podgorica with a test of its declared willingness to fully cooperate with the tribunal - something Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte no doubt made clear during her visit to the Montenegrin capital in mid-February.

The OTP dismissed objections that the limited disclosure of the indictment could tip-off possible suspects, making their arrest more difficult.

Prosecutors believe potential indictees were warned three or four years ago when it was publicly confirmed that an investigation was underway into the siege and shelling of Dubrovnik.

Spokeswoman Florence Hartmann said anyone wanting to check if they are named in a sealed indictment and considering surrendering to the tribunal should follow the example of Biljana Plavsic. Having received confirmation from the relevant authorities that she was indicted, the former Bosnian Serb president opted to give herself up.