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Krajisnik Pleads 'Not Guilty'

The most prominent Bosnian Serb political leader yet detained at the The Hague, Momcilo Krajisnik, makes his first appearance before the court.

Momcilo Krajisnik, described as the most prominent political figure to appear before The Hague Tribunal, pleaded "not guilty" to all charges during his first appearance on April 7. In contrast to the fanfare that greeted his arrival at The Hague, his first court appearance was a deliberately low-key affair. Presiding Judge Richard May sat alone to hear Krajisnik's plea - normally all the trial judges are present. Judge May also rejected two appeals from Krajisnik to say a few words in his own defence.

Judge May told Krajisnik he would have an opportunity to speak on his own behalf later in the proceedings, but at this stage all that was required was a simple plea - "guilty" or "not guilty". The judge then read out the charges against Krajisnik - genocide, crimes against humanity, violation of the laws or customs of war and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.

Krajisnik's temporary defence counsel, Belgrade lawyer Igor Pantelic, said after the hearing that the indictment was "unfounded, vague, fabricated and politically motivated."

Pantelic said it was "no accident" the indictment was served only days before local elections in Bosnia. His client, Pantelic insisted, was only a "consultant" to the Bosnian Serb leadership and was in no-way responsible for military actions and occupied no place in the "chain of command".

The prosecution, however, claims Krajisnik held many key positions during the period covered by the indictment - July 1, 1991 to December 31, 1992. Krajisnik, the prosecution claim, was a founder of the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, and a member of the party's main board; he was president of the Assembly of Serbian People in Bosnia and Herzegovina, BH; a member of the National Security Council of the so-called Serbian Republic of BH; a member of the presidency and a member of the supreme command the Serbian Republic's armed forces.

Following Krajisnik's arrest, the prosecutor's spokesman Paul Risley, said, "He was present at every meeting where political and military decisions resulted in deportations, illegal arrests, ethnic cleansing and the deaths of thousands of Bosnians."

Krajisnik's name was publicly mentioned before the Tribunal in June 1996, during the so-called "Rule 61 hearing", which reviewed the indictments issued against Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

At that hearing Paul Garde, a professor of Slavonic studies and an expert witness for the prosecution, spoke of a "very solid and unified team of leaders" among the Bosnian Serbs, including Karadzic, Biljana Plavsic, Nikola Koljevic, Mladic and Momcilo Krajisnik. Garde described this group as the main creators of the policy of ethnic cleansing.

During the hearing, the prosecution paid particular attention to the activities of the SDS. On the eve of the war - the period covered by the Krajisnik indictment - the prosecution established that the SDS created a "shadow government, ie. a state within a state". When war broke out the SDS, aided by the Yugoslav People's Army, JNA, took power in many municipalities across Bosnia-Herzegovina and established "a government of Bosnian Serbs that became known as Republika Srpska."

The prosecution CLAIMED that the SDS set up infamous detention camps like Omarska, Keraterm and Manjaca as "instruments of the policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide" and that the SDS "ran" these camps in conjunction with the army and police.

Confidential SDS documents were entered as evidence during the "RULE 61 hearing." These documents helped the prosecution reconstruct SDS strategy in the run-up to the war. The documents illustrated how the SDS created parallel power structures, organised and armed local paramilitary formations, established secret information and communication channels at all levels, and created the so-called Crisis Staffs, which oversaw the seizure of power.

By looking at the names of people in positions of power within the SDS and the state administration of Republika Srpska, the prosecution tried to prove that the two overlapped to such an extent they amounted to the same thing.

Hence the prosecution in the Krajisnik case are keen to stress his position as a leading member of the SDS.

As a member of the main board of the SDS, the prosecution contend that Krajisnik "exercised power and control over the Bosnian Serb forces and all SDS and government authorities, including Crisis Staffs, War Presidencies and War Commissions who participated in the crimes alleged in this indictment."

The prosecution argue that the SDS leadership developed a "closed, covert internal system of command, control and communications. In this system, the main authority belonged to the central SDS party organs and, in particular, to the President and the Main Board of the party, thus ensuring complete control by the party's leadership."

Having accepted they could not prevent the separation of Bosnia-Herzegovina from Yugoslavia, the prosecution claims the SDS began in earnest to create a separate Serbian territory within BH. "By September 1991 the SDS proclaimed one Serb Autonomous Region and four Serb Autonomous Districts (hereafter SAOs). The SAOs became the first territorial foundation on which the Serbian republic was to be founded."

A significant aspect of the plan to create a Serbian state, the prosecution claims, was "the permanent removal or 'ethnic cleansing' of nearly all of the Bosnian Muslim, Bosnian Croat and other non-Serb populations from those areas, allowing for the presence of only a small number of non-Serbs who would agree to the conditions for living in a Serb-dominated State."

To facilitate this policy, the SDS leadership, the indictment alleges, "initiated and implemented a course of conduct which included the creation of impossible conditions of life, involving persecution and terror tactics, that would have the effect of encouraging non-Serbs to leave those areas; the deportation of those who were reluctant to leave; and the liquidation of others. By December 31, 1992, this course of conduct resulted in the death or forced departure of a significant portion of the Bosnian Muslim, Bosnian Croat and other non-Serb groups from these municipalities."

After the hearing, Tribunal spokesman, Jim Landale, said he hoped Radovan Karadzic would soon be joining Krajisnik in the dock.

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