War crimes trial of former Bosnian commander starts

KILLINGS: Rasim Delic is accused of failing to rein in Islamic fighters who gunned down prisoners and beheaded others during the Bosnian war


Tue, Jul 10, 2007 - Page 6

The war crimes trial of a former Bosnian army commander who allegedly failed to punish Muslim fighters who murdered dozens of Serbs and Croats was set to start yesterday, although prosecutors were still hoping judges would transfer the case to Sarajevo at the last minute.

Retired General Rasim Delic, one of only a handful of Muslims indicted by the UN's Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, is charged with murder, rape and cruel treatment.

Prosecutors say he failed to rein in foreign Islamic fighters known as mujahidin who gunned down prisoners and beheaded others during the Bosnian war.

Delic surrendered to the court after he was indicted in 2005 and has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

In order to speed up the trial, judges have curtailed the number of witnesses prosecutors can call to 55 from the 91 originally requested.

Arguing the case should be turned over to a court in Bosnia, prosecutor Daryl Mundis told judges on Friday that the restrictions mean they can now "present only a truncated picture of the accused's criminality."

As of yesterday morning, the tribunal had not ruled on the motion seeking the case's transfer.

Delic's attorney, Vasvija Vidovic, pushed for a trial in The Hague, saying that Delic would have to wait at least 10 months before a trial could begin in Sarajevo.

"That is certainly not in the interests of justice," she said.

The tribunal is under increasing pressure from the UN, which foots the multimillion-dollar court bill, to finish its work quickly. The court is due to finish its trials by next year and round off all appeals and shut down in 2010.

Delic is one of the highest-ranking Bosnian Muslims to appear at the tribunal, which has indicted more than 160 suspects -- the vast majority of them Serbs.

Prosecutors indicted him on the basis of command responsibility -- arguing he knew about the mujahidin's crimes but failed to punish them.

According to his indictment, in July 1993 they summarily executed about 24 captured Bosnian Croat soldiers and civilians near the village of Maline.

Two years later mujahidin soldiers captured a group of Bosnian Serb troops and imprisoned them at a detention facility called Kamenica Camp. There they decapitated one of the Bosnian Serbs and forced the remaining prisoners to kiss the severed head, the indictment said. The head was later hung on a hook in the room where the prisoners were kept.

The mujahidin are also accused of raping three Bosnian Serb women and murdering other Serb prisoners in September 1995.