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Lukic Reiterates Not Guilty Plea

Judge declares confusion at continued difficulties in assigning defence lawyers to Bosnian paramilitary Milan Lukic, as he pleads not guilty to amended charge sheet.
By Janet Anderson
Bosnian Serb paramilitary leader Milan Lukic this week pleaded not guilty to an amended 21-count indictment against him, while the issue of assigning a permanent defence lawyer to his case remained unresolved.



The registry has denied permission for Lukic to be represented by his first choice of defence lawyer, Michael Karnavas, because of a “scheduling conflict” with another case. Karnavas is also lead counsel for Jadranko Prlic, a Bosnian Croat whose trial is due to start at the end of April.



However, prosecutors also made it clear to the court that they objected to assigning Karnavas to the Lukic case because they saw a potential conflict of interest in relation to previous trials he has been involved in at the Hague tribunal.



Lukic is accused of instigating a campaign of terror against the Muslim inhabitants of Visegrad during the early stages of the Bosnian war. The new indictment against him contains 12 counts of crimes against humanity and nine of violations of the laws or customs of war in the southeastern Bosnian town between 1992 and 1994.



The amended version clarifies dates and locations in the charges against him.



The indictment alleges that in the spring of 1992, Lukic “organised a group of local paramilitaries” sometimes referred to as the White Eagles or the Avengers.



According to the prosecution, this group worked with local police and military units to commit acts of violence against Muslims and other non-Serbs, including murder, cruel treatment, unlawful detention and confinement, harassment, humiliation, terrorisation and psychological abuse.



The people said to have died as a result of the paramilitaries’ reign of terror ranged in age from two days to 75 years old.



On the issue of his representation, Lukic told the court that, having been denied permission to take on Karnavas as his lead counsel, he would still like the American lawyer to play some role in his legal team. But Prosecutor Mark Harmon made it clear that from the point of view of the prosecution, even a lesser role would be unacceptable.



Karnavas himself was present in court and explained that the prosecution was concerned about his involvement in the case of Vidoje Blagojevic, who received a prison term for his role in the massacre of thousands of Muslim men and boys captured after the fall of the Srebrenica enclave in July 1995.



However, Karnavas said that since Lukic’s indictment contained nothing suggesting any connection with the events in Srebrenica, he personally saw no conflict of interest.



Despite an oblique explanation from Harmon which made reference to certain telephone intercepts, Judge Iain Bonomy noted that as far as he was concerned, the whole issue remained “a mystery”. He urged the parties to resolve the problem quickly, noting that it “has a knock-on effect” on Lukic’s co-accused.



Lukic, first indicted in October 1998, was arrested in Buenos Aires last year following a joint operation by Interpol and the Argentinean police. He is being tried along with his cousin Sredoje Lukic, another White Eagles member, who has been in The Hague since September 2005.



The prosecution initially argued that the case of the Lukic cousins should be transferred to Bosnia’s specialist war crimes chamber in Sarajevo, in accordance with tribunal rules which allow for lower and mid-ranking accused to be dealt with by local courts in the Balkans.



But both men have made clear their strong opposition to any such move.



Last December, the tribunal ruled that the decision on transfer should be delayed until Milan Lukic was installed in The Hague and could appear before the referral bench in person. Delaying the decision about referring his case to Bosnia is thought to have played a role in the negotiating his transfer to the tribunal.



At this week’s court hearing, a number of comments hinted at the possibility that further negotiations might be going on behind the scenes.



“We have begun a procedure to resolve this case in an expeditious manner” Karnavas told the court at one point, without giving any further details.



Janet Anderson is the director of IWPR’s International Justice Programme in The Hague.

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