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Former Yugoslav Army Commander Pleads 'Not Guilty' - 2002-04-26

The former head of the Yugoslav army has pleaded not guilty to charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Retired General Dragoljub Ojdanic made his first appearance at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal Friday after surrendering to the court on Thursday.

The man who left Belgrade saying he felt like a hero played the part in court. Smiling and with his head held high, General Dragoljub Ojdanic pleaded not guilty to all five counts against him.

He stood in the same courtroom where just hours earlier his former president, Slobodan Milosevic, was on trial. Both men are charged with the same crimes in respect to Kosovo: the 1999 murder of about 900 Kosovo Albanians and the deportation of 800,000 others during what prosecutors call a Serb campaign of terror and violence.

Prosecutors say the campaign's goal was to ethnically cleanse Kosovo of its Albanians to ensure continued Serbian control over the province. But Peter Robinson, one of the general's lawyers, says the general sees things differently.

"General Dragoljub Ojdanic has pleaded not guilty today from charges arising from his country's battle with terrorists from the Kosovo Liberation Army and in defending his country. We have all learned since September 11 how difficult it is to fight terrorism in one's homeland. General Ojdanic is committed to fighting these charges vigorously," he said. Mr. Robinson said if justice is to be done in The Hague, than the general looks forward to his exoneration and his return to the family and country he loves. For now, though, it is life in a nearby prison, where the general will not be sharing a cell or even a meeting with his former president.