Wed, Oct 17, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Croatian lawmaker pleads not guilty to war crimes charges


A Croatian opposition lawmaker pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges that he ordered the torture and killing of at least 11 Serb civilians during the 1991 Serbo-Croat war.

Branimir Glavas is the first senior Croatian politician to be tried for war crimes stemming from the 1991 war, which erupted when the country's minority Serbs rebelled against Croatia's independence from Yugoslavia.

The indictment charges that Glavas formed a paramilitary unit in 1991 in the eastern Croatian town of Osijek, where he was seen as a warlord, and ordered its members to detain, torture and kill Serb civilians. The bodies of 10 victims were allegedly dumped in a river, with their hands tied and mouths covered with tape.

He also is accused of ordering three Serb civilians to be tortured in Osijek on another occasion, with one of them forced to drink battery acid and then shot.

Glavas is being tried together with six alleged members of the paramilitary unit. All have been detained since the investigation was launched a year ago. They pleaded not guilty at the start of the trial at the Zagreb district court. If convicted, Glavas faces 20 years in prison.

Independent newspapers have reported for years about Glavas's alleged torture of Serbs in Osijek in 1991.

But he has denied any wrongdoing, accusing the governing Croatian Democratic Union of setting him up. He has also insisted he should be treated as a war hero, not a criminal. He has acted theatrically throughout his detention, including launching a hunger strike and illegally sending a video message from prison to his supporters.

Glavas was one of the senior members of the Croatian Democratic Union throughout the 1990s, but was expelled from it three years ago.

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