UN prosecutor opens genocide case, says Bosnian Serb general supervised execution of thousands

By Arthur Max, AP
Friday, February 26, 2010

Genocide case opens against Bosnian Serb general

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — U.N. prosecutors opened the genocide trial Friday of a senior Bosnian Serb army general, accusing him of supervising the execution and burial of thousands of Muslims during the climax of the Bosnian war.

Gen. Zdravko Tolimir, 61, was the top intelligence officer and trusted aide of Ratko Mladic, the commander of Bosnian Serb forces and the most wanted alleged war criminal still at large from the Balkan wars of the early 1990s.

Tolimir is one of the most senior officers to be tried by the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, created by the U.N. in 1993. His case also will be the last trial to begin at the tribunal unless Mladic or another fugitive, Goran Hadzic, are caught and extradited to The Hague.

He has pleaded innocent and is conducting his own defense.

Prosecutor Nelson Thayer said Tolimir was instrumental in carrying out the 1995 massacres in the Srebrenica and Zepa enclaves, where about 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed and tens of thousands of civilians were driven from their homes by creating “inhuman conditions.”

Tolimir participated “in making sure that the murder operation did its evil work until the last bullet was fired and the last body was buried,” Thayer said in the prosecution’s opening statement.

“He assisted, supervised and authorized the organized execution and burial of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys,” the prosecutor said.

The objective was to drive out Muslim and Croat populations from the region to create “a mono-ethnic state,” Thayer said. Non-Serb populations were “starved, terrorized, shelled and ultimately” driven out from areas that had been declared safe zones by the United Nations, he said.

He quoted Mladic as telling the Bosnian Serb assembly late in 1995 that Tolimir “has been my closest assistant” in the 1992-95 Bosnian war. About 100,000 people were killed in that war.

Previous trials already have defined Srebrenica as genocide. But a genocide conviction requires proof that the suspect had the intention to destroy, wholly or partially, an ethnic or racial group in a particular area.

The Yugoslav court has convicted one officer, Gen. Radislav Krstic, of aiding and abetting genocide in Srebrenica. Other suspects were either acquitted of genocide or struck plea deals to strike genocide charges from their indictments.

A separate trial is continuing against seven other officers linked to Srebrenica, including several who were Tolimir’s subordinates.

Thayer said the prosecutor would bring witnesses, radio intercepts, audio and videotapes and forensic evidence to prove that Tolimir was “knee deep” in the carnage.

Tolimir’s trial began just as the tribunal’s biggest case was due to resume. On Monday, the wartime leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic, will begin a two-day defense statement in his own genocide trial.

On Friday, the court rejected Karadzic’s motion to delay the calling of witnesses until mid-June, and ordered the prosecution to proceed after Karadzic lays out his case in the opening statment.

Karadzic’s trial opened last October but was suspended in early November when Karadzic boycotted the hearings, claiming he was denied enough time to prepare his defense.

The U.N. Security Council is pressing the tribunal to conclude its trials and appeals as quickly as possible and to close its doors. National courts are conducting some cases in the states that emerged from the dissolved Yugoslavia.

The tribunal in The Hague has indicted 161 political and military officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Forty of those cases are ongoing.

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