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The Tribunal Frees Three Bosnian Croats

Tribunal Update 57: Last Week in The Hague (December 15-20, 1997)

"Upon further investigation and a review of the available evidence" announced the first of the motions, "the prosecution is now satisfied that there is insufficient evidence to justify proceeding to trial in the case against Marinsko Katava, Ivan Santic and Pero Skopljak on any of the counts with which they are charged in the indictment, and that in the interest of justice the indictment should now be withdrawn."

The second motion referred to Stipo Alilovic, named in the indictment Kupreskic and others, and reads as follows: "The prosecution has received confirmation that the accused is dead." It is ironic that Alilovic died two weeks before the indictment was issued, less then 50 km away from Hague on October 25, 1995 in Amsterdam.

In the case against Marinko Katava (indictment Kuperskic and others), a prosecution witness had testified at General Blaskic's trial. The witness pointed out that the indicted could not have been involved in the attack on the Muslims in Ahmici, since he saw him the same day at the same time at some other place. For Pero Skopljak (same indictment ) the prosecution could not provide evidence which would prove beyond reasonable doubt that at the time of the attacks on the Muslim villages the indicted was the Chief of Police in Vitez.

On the contrary, during the Blaskic trial, some witnesses pointed out that Skopljak had left his job as a Chief of Police before the crimes in Lasva Valley. There was also no reliable evidence that Ivan Santic (indictment Kordic and others), mayor of Vitez, was responsible for the political control of the military groups which are accused of having carried out attacks in Lasva Valley.

Less than 24 hours after the prosecution put forward its proposal, hearings were held on the matter (considered urgent by the judges) and orders made for the release of the three men. The Prosecutor Louise Arbour said in her official statement that the "decision to withdraw a count of a full indictment... is part of the proper exercise of prosecutorial discretion" and concluded "in the end the interest of justice, professional ethics and fairness to the accused ... are paramount."

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