Three former commanders in the Bosnian Muslim army pleaded not guilty Thursday at the UN war crimes tribunal to charges linked to atrocities committed against ethnic Croats and Serbs during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.
Appearing before the tribunal for the first time since being arrested and transferred to The Hague last week, retired generals Enver Handzihasanovic and Mehmed Alagic and former colonel Amir Kubura denied all charges against them.
The are the first senior Bosnian Muslim commanders indicted by the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), based in The Hague.
Dressed in business suits, the three stood stiffly at attention as they pleaded not guilty to up to 20 counts against them.
Hadzihasanovic and Alagic were at different times commanders of the 3rd corps of the Bosnian Muslim army, which included the strictly Muslim seventh brigade that held a number of foreign Islamic militants and was led by Kubura.
The three are charged with crimes committed in 1993, when the 3rd corps was fighting Croat secessionists in central Bosnia.
Counts in the indictment include murder of civilians, inhumane treatement, the taking of civilian hostages, wanton destruction of villages, plunder and destruction of religious institutions.
The three are not charged with having personally committed the atrocities but for allegedly failing to prevent crimes committed by fighters under their command or punishing those responsible.
The officers surrendered last week after authorities of the Bosnian-Croat federation which now rules part of Bosnia served them with indictments which had been secretly issued by the ICTY.
Their handover to The Hague for trial fueled renewed calls on authorities in the Serb part of Bosnia to hand over the tribunal's most wanted suspects: Bosnian Serb war-time leader Radovan Karadzic and his top military commander, Ratko Mladic.
Under the ICTY statutes, a superior officer can be held responsible for the acts of his subordinates "if he knew or had reason to know they were about to commit such acts or had already done so" and did not take measures to prevent the crimes or punish the perpetrators.
The trial against the Bosnian Muslims will not start for several months -- THE HAGUE (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)