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Kovacevic: 'not guilty'

Tribunal Update 39: Last Week In The Hague (28 July-2 August, 1997)

This pattern did not change with the appearance of Milan Kovacevic, the director of the Prijedor hospital accused of genocide and arrested by British commandos on 10 July 1997 in the first operation of its kind carried out by an SFOR contingent.

Asked to enter a plea during the initial hearing on 30 July 1997, Kovacevic stated: "On the counts of this indictment I am not guilty, and thanks to God and the justice of this court I think I will be found not guilty."

Kovacevic made this statement twice: once after Presiding Judge Sir Ninian Stephen from Australia asked him whether he had read and understood the indictment, and then after the indictment had been read out to him.

He spoke slowly, in a low voice, pointing his finger in the direction of the judges, but overall he looked good for a man, who, according to the claims of his counsel, Belgrade lawyer Igor Pantelic, had suffered two strokes in the 20 days since he was arrested.

Kovacevic, together with former Prijedor Police Chief Simo Drljaca, who was killed when resisting arrest in the same operation, has been accused of committing acts of genocide in 1992 against the non-Serb population in the Prijedor municipality and, in particular, in the detention camps located in the area: Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje.

These camps, it is claimed in the indictment, were under the command and control of the Crisis Headquarters, in which the accused-as the president of the Municipal Executive Council at the time-had played an important role.

After reading the indictment, Defence Counsel Pantelic and Prosecutor Grant Niemann stated that they were ready for the trial, and Judge Stephen scheduled the so-called status conference for 10 October, when an assessment will be made of how far preparations for the trial have progressed.

The defence counsel announced that he would submit his preliminary motions within 60 days, without stating before the court what they will refer to. Talking to journalists after the hearing, Pantelic suggested that there might be an objection raised relating to "the manner of the arrest" of Kovacevic, but he refused to answer the question whether he will demand that the accused, due to his state of health, be spared detention while the trial proceeds.

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