Croat Heads To War Court

Photographers struggle to get a view of Knut, a 3-month-old polar bear cub, during his first outing at Berlin's Zoologischer Garten zoo March 23, 2007.
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A Croatian army general surrendered Wednesday to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in the Netherlands — the first Croat to face charges stemming from the Serbo-Croat war.

Gen. Rahim Ademi face charges that he oversaw a wartime campaign that left 70 Serb civilians dead and hundreds of homes in ashes. One of the more gruesome atrocities involved 10 Croatian soldiers who sprayed a 74-year-old blind woman with gunfire as she sat on the porch of her home, the United Nations alleged in a report.

Ademi was expected to make a first appearance before the tribunal as early as Thursday to enter a plea.

Wearing his military uniform and medals, Ademi flew with his wife Anita and a lawyer to Schiphol international airport, where he was received by police. Because he surrendered, Ademi traveled from Croatia without a police guard. His two daughters were at the airport in Zagreb to bid him farewell.

"I am proud of my role in the war," he said before he left. "I am not afraid of The Hague court's accusations — I have done nothing wrong in the war and I will prove it there. My conscience is completely clear."

Detainees undergo a medical examination and formally receive the indictment at the U.N. detention unit in the Dutch prison Scheveningen, a seaside suburb of The Hague.

The tribunal, which had kept the indictment secret until Wednesday, published charges that included five counts of crimes against humanity and of violating the laws and customs of war.

It specifically charged him with murder, persecution and the plunder of property.

The Accused
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, created by the United Nations Security Council in 1993, is located in the Hague Netherlands and consists of judges from 14 countries, including the United States.

It has indicted 102 people on charges including breaching the Geneva Conventions, violating the customs of war, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Sixty-seven indictments are outstanding, 35 are resolved.

Nine of those indicted have died, two were acquitted, 18 had the charges dropped and four were transferred to serve their sentences.

Thirty-eight people are detained awaiting trial and 26 indictees are still at large.

Opponents of the 1998 NATO action in Yugoslavia filed charges against the alliance for war crimes it allegedly committed.

But the Tribunal decided in June, 2000, not to press charges, a decision sharply criticized by Yugoslavia and Russia.

  • Read the indictment against Ademi.
  • Ademi will join former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic — who was handed over to the tribunal by the government of Serbia last month — and 38 other war crimes suspects. Milosevic is being kept separate from other detainees for the first month.

    The tribunal indicted Ademi along with another high-ranking Croatian officer and demanded that both suspects be handed over for trial.

    Croatia's pro-Western government agreed to comply. But its decision triggered fierce protests by veterans and nationalists who supported the late President Franjo Tudjman. They see Croatian fighters as heroes and patriots, not criminals.

    Many Croats have struggled to come to grips with the indictments of military leaders they believe saved the country from Serb forces who indiscriminately shelled villages and cities, killed thousands of civilians and expelled many more from their homes.

    The second suspect — widely believed to be retired Gen. Ante Gotovina — has indicated a refusal to surrender, and his loyalists have threatened unrest if he is arrested. A warrant has been issued for his arrest, but he remains at large.

    The charges against Ademi stem from a 1993 government offensive in southwestern Croatia, an operation aimed at regaining territory seized by Serb rebels during the 1991 independence war.

    Under pressure from the West, Croatian troops withdrew from the recaptured territories soon afterward. The United Nations later charged that retreating Croatian forces burned down villages, set thousands of Serb homes ablaze and killed about 70 Serb civilians, describing the brutal operation as a "scorched-earth campaign."

    Ademi, a Croatian citizen of Kosovo Albanian origin, was in command of that military operation.

    A 1993 U.N. report said the evidence indicated "the intentional killing of Serb civilians, regardless of age, sex or status." U.N. police found 18 bodies — 10 of them in civilian clothes — and most were "riddled with multiple bullet wounds or incinerated," the report said.

    Faced with Western government demands to punish the perpetrators, Tudjman suspended Ademi at the time — effectively putting the blame on him. In recent interviews, Ademi has claimed he was a commander in a purely formal sense and that other military officers were actually in charge.

    Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, the same year that Bosnia, Macedonia and Slovenia left the federation.

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