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Tuta' Finally In Dock

Mladen Naletilic, "Tuta", extradicted by the Croatian authorities after a long delay, pleads not guilty to all charges.

After all the ups and downs of extradition proceedings against Mladen Naletilic "Tuta", the Croatian suspect finally appeared before the Tribunal on March 24 pleading not guilty to all 22 counts listed in his indictment.

Tuta's defence lawyer started by insisting the hearing could not proceed until cardiologists and psychologists confirmed his client was medically fit to stand trial. Naletilic himself, sporting a black suit and technicolour tie, appeared relaxed and smiled though most of the hearing.

Judge Almiro Rodrigues ordered that the indictment be read out and that Naletilic enter his plea later.

After hearing the first count on the indictment, the accused said, "If it is a crime to defend the homeland, then I am guilty. The court should now take the lie detector..."

The judge interrupted Tuta and gave the defence 15 minutes to explain to the accused that the rules restricted a defendant to entering a simple plea of "guilty" or "not guilty". Tuta's defence lawyer then reported that his client was unwell and in need of medication. The adjournment lasted one hour.

Finally, having pleaded "not guilty" to all charges, the judge allowed Tuta to speak. Tuta proceeded to describe the United Nations Detention unit as a "four star hotel" compared to his previous prison accommodation in Croatia. He then reiterated his desire to be examined by a lie detector as used in the United States.

Naletic together with Vinko Martinovic Stela are accused of persecuting Muslims in the area of Mostar. Both men are charged with inhuman treatment of Muslim civilians, using detainees as human shields, torture, murder, the forced transfer of people and the destruction and plunder of property. These charges are qualified as crimes against humanity, violations of laws and customs of war, and grave violations of the Geneva Convention.

Naletilic and Martinovic were indicted in December 1998, but the Zagreb government had delayed Naletilic's extradition to The Hague, initially by raising questions over jurisdiction and latterly on health grounds. Tuta was finally flown to The Hague on March 21 on a United States air ambulance.

A date for the start of the Naletilic and Martinovic trial will be set later.

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