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Tuta And Stela Case

Accused plead not guilty to amended charges

Mladen "Tuta" Naletilic and Vinko "Stela" Martinovic pleaded not guilty last week to amended charges concerning their alleged abuse of prisoners.

The two men were accused of forcing prisoners to carry out dangerous military tasks such as transporting ammunition across front lines and drawing enemy fire. The charges constitute violations of the laws or customs of war and - following an amendment to the indictment relating to "dangerous and humiliating labour" - grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.

Naletilic, former commander of the Convicts' Battalion, and Martinovic, former commander of the battalion's anti-terrorist unit, are accused of persecuting Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) in and around Mostar in 1993 and early 1994.

The prosecution claims the two accused as individuals or as superior officers were responsible for attacks on civilians, illegal detention of civilians and of inhuman treatment of prisoners under their control. They are also charged with murder, the forced expulsion of people and theft.

Martinovic and Naletilic pleaded not guilty to all the original charges during their initial hearings shortly after their arrival at The Hague. Croatia extradited Martinovic in August 1999 and Naletilic in March 2000.

Trial preparations are still underway. Pre-trial judge Patricia Wald has asked the prosecution to reduce the number of witnesses it plans to call to between 50 and 60 and for the prosecution and defence to aim to present their respective cases within ten weeks.

One unresolved pre-hearing issue is the prosecution's intention to include as material evidence affidavits from witnesses scheduled to be interviewed by representatives from the prosecutor's office. Martinovic is demanding to be present when the witnesses give their statements, because he argues this would contribute to their accuracy and reliability.

The start date for the trial has yet to be set. "What we can say now is that this chamber will tell both sides some time in March when this trial will begin," presiding judge Almiro Rodrigues said.

The three trial judges, or chamber, have said on several occasions the cases could be heard by a different trial chamber due to their already pressing workload with the Srebrenica and Omarsk hearings. Given the recent announcement of 27 additional temporary judges for the tribunal a change of chamber looks even more likely.