Last war crimes suspect Goran Hadzic faces UN court

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Former Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic will appear for the first time before a UN war crimes tribunal judge Monday as the court's last wanted fugitive, arrested after seven years on the run.

Hadzic, 52, who is wanted for his role in the 1991-95 Croatian war, will face South Korean Judge O-Gon Kwon at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague at 1400 GMT.

At his first appearance, the erstwhile leader of the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina during the early 1990s, will be asked to identify himself and his rights will be read.

The judge, an acting ICTY president, will read a summary of the 14 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes against Hadzic, including persecution, murder and extermination by his troops during the 1991-95 Croatian war.

Arrested in northern Serbia on Wednesday and transferred to the ICTY's UN detention unit in The Hague on Friday, Hadzic will then be asked to plead guilty or not on each of the counts.

He will however, be able to ask for a 30-day extention before having to answer again to the same question. If he fails after 30 days to enter a plea, a "not guilty" plea will be entered on his behalf.

Should Hadzic plead guilty, no trial will take place and the chamber will then instruct the ICTY's registrar to set a date for a sentencing hearing.

It could however still take months for a trial to start. The preliminary stage before the trial gives defence lawyers a chance to study the evidence collected by the prosecution during its investigation.

Wanted since 2004, Hadzic was the last fugitive of the 161 persons indicted by the ICTY.

The prosecution has charged Hadzic with war crimes and crimes against humanity, accusing him of having overseen the murder of hundreds of civilians and the deportation of tens of thousands of Croats by Serbian troops.

Hadzic is wanted for alleged involvement 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 three-month siege.

"Hadzic and his co-perpetrators set out to cleanse the non-Serb population from about one-third of Croatia and annex the territory as part of a new Serb-dominated state," the court's prosecutor Serge Brammertz said on Friday.

"Hadzic will be called upon to answer for the deaths of hundreds and the displacement of thousands," he added.

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

© 2011 AFP

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