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Former Bosnian Serb General Goes On Trial


General Zdravko Tolimir during his initial appearance in the tribunal in June 2007.

General Zdravko Tolimir during his initial appearance in the tribunal in June 2007.

(RFE/RL) -- The trial of former Bosnian Serb General Zdravko Tolimir opened today at the UN's Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Tolimir is the last suspect in the custody of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to go on trial. He is accused of committing genocide, crimes against humanity and other war crimes for his role in the 1992-95 Bosnian war. That includes the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys.

Prosecutor Nelson Thayer said Tolimir was "knee-deep" in mass murder. "This case is about General Zdravko Tolimir's choice to forsake his duty to abide by the laws of war in pursuit of a mono-ethnic Serbian state and, ultimately, to take part in and lead organized brutality which he knew violated every tenet of his training and any officers' code -- and [what] he well knew were crimes against humanity," Thayer said.

During the war, Tolimir served as the assistant commander for intelligence and security for the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS).

The indictment alleges that Tolimir helped orchestrate more than a dozen incidents of large-scale murder between July and November of 1995, including supervising a unit of the Bosnian Serb Army that "summarily executed more than 1,700 Muslim men and boys at the Branjevo Military Farm and the Pilica Cultural Center."

The start of his trial had been delayed several times due to the 61-year-old's poor health. He has pleaded not guilty and is conducting his own defense.

In a pretrial conference on February 25, a judge, Christoph Flugge, warned Tolimir that he will be held to the same standards as a professional lawyer. It remains to be decided whether he will be allowed to question witnesses.

Thayer said the prosecution will use "virtually every type of evidence available" to prove Tolimir's guilt, including live testimony, military records, audio, video, and forensic science.

Before his arrest at the end of May 2007, Tolimir was considered the third-most-wanted war crimes suspect still at large in the Balkans. Second-most-wanted was Radovan Karadzic, the wartime Bosnian Serb political leader, who was apprehended in July 2008.

Karadzic is expected to present his opening statement on March 1. Like Tolimir, he is representing himself in court. His trial has been postponed since early November 2009, when Karadzic refused to appear in court, contending he needed more preparation time.

Ratko Mladic, the head of the VRS during the war, is the most-wanted war crimes suspect still at large. Thayer said Tolimir was one of Mladic's "most trusted assistant commanders."

Serbia's failure to arrest Mladic is widely viewed as a barrier to the country's potential membership in the European Union.

The ICTY has indicted 161 persons for war crimes committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia during the wars of the 1990s. The proceedings against 121 individuals have been completed, and 40 more cases are currently being heard. The tribunal is expected to wind up its activity in 2014.

RFE/RL's Balkan Service contributed to this report
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