Last Yugoslav war crimes fugitive Hadzic in dock


Croatian Serb former rebel leader Goran Hadzic went on trial at the Yugoslav war crimes court in The Hague on Tuesday, the last defendant to be prosecuted for crimes during the brutal Balkan wars.
“This is the last opening statement of the last trial to be held in this tribunal,” prosecuting lawyer Douglas Stringer told the court as the trial opened.
“But the crimes you will hear about … were among the very first to be committed during the long years of conflict and despair that witnessed the death of a culturally rich, diverse country called Yugoslavia,” he said.
Hadzic, 54, faces 14 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the 1991-95 war in Croatia, including the massacre of civilians taken from Vukovar hospital in 1991 in one of the conflict’s darkest episodes.
He is also charged with responsibility for the massacre of Croat civilians who were forced to walk into a minefield in the Croatian town of Lovas in October 1991, one of the first crimes of the long and bloody conflict.
“Fifty prisoners were called out by name and marched out of the town to a clover field where mines had recently been placed,” Stringer told the court as Hadzic, wearing a dark blue suit, listened impassively.
“When the prisoners reached the field, they were directed at gunpoint to hold hands and walk across, sweeping their legs side to side in order to locate and disarm the mines that were placed there,” he said.
“When the first mine exploded several Serb soldiers began firing at the prisoners in the field and when it was over 21 of the Croat men had been killed. … The dead were buried in a mass grave,” Stringer said.
The one-time leader of the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina during the early 1990s is the last of 161 suspects charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
He was arrested in northern Serbia’s idyllic Fruska Gora mountains in July last year after seven years on the run, some two months after the court’s most wanted fugitive, Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic, was caught in the same region near the city of Novi Sad.