Tue, Jun 19, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Security tight as trial of Croat generals begins

AP , ZAGREB

An 84-year-old blind woman sprayed with bullets on her porch, a man set on fire, Serb-populated villages indiscriminately shelled -- all are war crimes that two Croatian army generals are charged with failing to prevent.

In a trial that opened yesterday under tight security, former generals Mirko Norac and Rahim Ademi were charged with responsibility for the September 1993 killings of about 30 Serb civilians following Zagreb's offensive to retake part of the land seized by rebel Serbs in the 1991 war.

Ademi and Norac, local commanders at the time in the central Croatian area known as the Medak Pocket, are the highest-ranking Croatian officers being tried for wartime atrocities against the Serbs. Croatia for years declined to prosecute its own, claiming that only Serbs committed crimes in the war.

The trial is certain to provoke some protests from the nationalists and the Zagreb district court introduced tight security measures. About 140 witnesses are to testify, some of them protected to avoid retaliation.

If convicted, both men face 20 years in prison.

It is the second war crimes trial for Norac, who already is serving a 12-year sentence for orchestrating the killing of Serb civilians in the central area of Gospic in 1991.

This trial is the first case the UN tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, has transferred to the Croatian judiciary. The Hague tribunal was set up in 1993 to try war crimes committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Local courts have convicted several Croats for war crimes in the past few years, but Norac-Ademi trial remains a test of Croatia's ability to prosecute impartially.

The indictment by Croatia charges Ademi and Norac with ordering "indiscriminate shelling" of Serb villages and with failing to prevent the killings.

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