Bosnian Muslim's War Crimes Trial Starts

The Associated Press
Monday, July 9, 2007; 11:13 AM

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- A former Bosnian army commander accused of letting his Muslim fighters kill dozens of Serbs and Croats will be acquitted if judges refuse to allow more witnesses to testify, prosecutors said Monday as his trial began.

Retired Gen. Rasim Delic, one of only a handful of Muslims indicted by the U.N.'s Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, is charged with murder, rape and cruel treatment. Prosecutors say Delic failed to prevent foreign Islamic fighters known as mujahadeen gunning down prisoners and beheading others during the Bosnian war.

Prosecutors indicted him on the basis of command responsibility _ arguing he knew about the mujahadeen's crimes but failed to prevent or punish them.

"He had a duty to act," prosecutor Daryl Mundis said in his opening statement. "He failed in that duty and as a result crimes were committed and perpetrators were allowed to escape justice."

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

"If we are required to start the trial under these conditions, the likely outcome would be acquittal," Mundis told judges at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal. "We are not in a position to be able to prove our case with 55 witnesses."

Prosecutors last week sought more time and witnesses, but judges insisted the trial start and said prosecutors could ask for more witnesses later.

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

The tribunal is under increasing pressure from the United Nations, which pays the multimillion-dollar court bill, to finish its work quickly. The court is due to finish its trials by 2008 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.

The mujahadeen poured into Bosnia in 1992 from Islamic nations such as Egypt, Algeria and Saudi Arabia to protect Bosnia's Muslims.

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

Two years later, mujahadeen 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 mujahadeen also are accused of raping three Bosnian Serb women and murdering other Serb prisoners in September 1995.

© 2007 The Associated Press