Croat Serb ex-leader to go on trial for war crimes

Milan Martic, the former leader of the self-proclaimed rebel Serb republic within Croatia, is to go on trial for war crimes in The Hague. Mr Martic has denied charges of murder and persecution dating to his time as leader of Serbs in the Krajina region. Prosecutors also blame him for a 1995 rocket attack on the Croatian capital, Zagreb, which killed seven people. The Krajina Serb republic lasted from 1991 to 1995, when a Croat offensive brought it under Zagreb's control.

The Croatian general who led the assault, Ante Gotovina, appeared at the international criminal tribunal in The Hague to face war crimes charges on Monday. He was captured in Spain last week after living as a fugitive for four years.

Mr Martic surrendered to the Hague tribunal in 2002. The indictment against him says he was personally responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity against non-Serb communities.

The charges - including murder, persecution and extermination - form part of the strategy known as "ethnic cleansing", widely used during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. As a former police chief, Mr Martic is alleged to have helped train and equip police and special forces unit in the rebel Serb republic.

Prosecutors at the Hague tribunal say Mr Martic was a key figure in a "joint criminal enterprise" presided over by the Serb leader in Belgrade, Slobodan Milosevic. Mr Milosevic is in custody, halfway through his war crimes trial in the Hague. He is accused of helping Serb leaders in Bosnia and Croatia maintain territory in the Balkans through the murder and persecution of other communities, reports BBC news. I.L.

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