Bosnian on trial for war crimes

The former commander of Muslim forces in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica has gone on trial, charged with atrocities against Bosnian Serbs.

    Nasser Oric is considered a hero by many survivors of Srebrenica

    Nasser Oric, 37, is the first Muslim to be charged with war

    crimes committed in the Srebrenica area.

    Although the name of Srebrenica is synonymous with

    the horrors of the Bosnian war because of the 1995 massacre of more

    than 7000 Muslim men by Serb troops, his trial does not cover that

    period.

    In his opening statement on Wednesday, the prosecutor hardly touched on the

    genocide but concentrated on Oric's role in 1992 and 1993 as the

    commander of the Muslim troops defending Srebrenica.

    "This is the case of a young commander who became a war lord,"

    prosecutor Jan Wubben said in his opening statement.

    The prosecution alleges that in the two-year period between the

    start of the war in 1992 and 1993

    , troops commanded by Oric

    destroyed 50 predominantly Serb villages around Srebrenica

    ,

    causing thousands of Bosnian Serbs to flee.

    He has also been charged with seven murders and several cases of

    cruel treatment committed by men under his command.

    Prosecution blasted

    According to Wubben, Oric "failed to prevent and rein in the

    lawlessness of his soldiers".

    Dressed in a dark suit with his hair carefully slicked back,

    Oric listened stone-faced as Wubben named the men allegedly killed

    and brutalised by his soldiers.

    However, in the defence opening statement Oric's lawyer, John Jones,

    blasted the prosecution for not presenting a true picture of what

    was happening in Srebrenica at the time of the events.

    "This is the case of a young commander who became a warlord"

    Jan Wubben,
    prosecutor

    "Srebrenica from the start of the war was an open-air

    concentration camp.

    "Ten of thousands of refugees squeezed into the

    enclave, sleeping out in the cold in winters, being shelled and shot

    at by Serb forces like fish in a barrel, people dying every day," he

    said.

    Jones argued that the Serb troops had "a genocidal intent" from

    the start of the siege in 1992, and intended to effect a slow death

    on the people of Srebrenica by shelling, sniping, starvation and

    disease.

    The defence is expected to argue that the raids on Serb villages

    by Oric's troops were legitimate attacks on military targets and efforts

    to get food for the starving Muslims in Srebrenica.

    Hero to Muslims

    The tribunal has no standardised sentences for certain charges,

    making it impossible to tell what kind of sentence Oric might face.

    The maximum punishment is a life sentence, which has so far been

    handed down once in the history of the tribunal and is not usually

    sought in cases involving only war-crimes charges.

    "Srebrenica from the start of the war was an open-air

    concentration camp.

    Ten of thousands of refugees ...

    being shelled and shot

    at by Serb forces... people dying every day"

    John Jones,
    Oric's lawyer

    Oric's arrest and transfer to The Hague in April last year

    sparked controversy among Bosnian Muslim survivors of the 1995

    massacre.

    Some were outraged because they consider Oric a hero who

    fended off Serb troops, while others say he is a criminal and

    profiteer who made a fortune on the black market in Srebrenica.

    Oric, a former bodyguard of former Yugoslav president Slobodan

    Milosevic, left the enclave two months before it was overrun by

    Serb troops.

    Some claim the massacre that followed was in revenge

    for the fierce resistance Oric's men put up during the siege.

    SOURCE: AFP


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