Last Yugo war crimes fugitive Hadzic declines to plead

25th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Ex-Croatian Serb rebel leader Goran Hadzic declined to enter a plea before a UN war crimes court Monday, where he appeared as its last defendant after seven years on the run.

"Your honour, Mr Hadzic is not going to enter a plea today," his lawyer Vladimir Petrovic told a judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

Hadzic, 52, is the last of 161 indicted suspects to appear before the ICTY and was wanted on 14 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the war in Croatia between 1991 and 1995.

Arrested in northern Serbia last Wednesday, Hadzic asked through his lawyer to be granted a 30-day delay before being asked if he admits or denies the charges.

If he refuses to answer, an automatic "not guilty" plea will be entered on his behalf.

"A date will be set at a later stage and parties will be informed accordingly," the ICTY's acting president, Judge O-Gon Kwon, told Hadzic, who seemed impassive through the short session, occasionally stroking his beard.

Wearing a dark suit, mauve shirt and a black-and-white striped tie, the one-time leader of the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina during the early 1990s sat with his hands folded in his lap as he listened to his rights being read.

His lawyer then declined on his behalf when the judge asked if he should read the indictment.

"Mr Hadzic has familiarised himself with the content of the indictment and there is no need to read the whole indictment here," Petrovic told the judge.

The prosecution has charged Hadzic with persecution and murder of hundreds of Croats and other non-Serbs as part of a plan to remove them from about a third of Croatia to make way for a new Serb-dominated state.

Most notably, Hadzic is wanted for his role in the massacre by Croatian Serb troops of some 260 Croats and other non-Serbs taken from a hospital in Vukovar after it fell to Serbian troops in November 1991 following a harrowing three-month siege.

The persecution charges include the deportation or forcible transfer of tens of thousands of Croat and other non-Serb civilians, including 20,000 inhabitants of the town of Vukovar.

Hadzic, a former warehouse employee, is also accused of placing thousands of others in detention camps.

Living conditions in these detention facilities were "inadequate and characterised by inhumane treatment, overcrowding, starvation, forced labour inadequate medical care and constant physical and psychological assault including mock executions, torture, beatings and sexual assault," according to the indictment.

ICTY spokeswoman Nerma Jelacic said Monday Hadzic spent his first weekend behind bars in the UN detention unit located in The Hague's seaside suburb of Scheveningen, meeting officials from the tribunal's registry and also undergoing a medical examination.

"He is still separated from the others," she told AFP.

Shortly before the end of the hearing, which took less than 15 minutes, the court session was closed to the public after a request by Hadzic's lawyer, who wanted to ask the judge a particular question about his client.

Hadzic's arrest came less than two months after Serbian authorities finally captured wartime Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic, the court's most wanted man.

© 2011 AFP

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