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Bosnian Muslim Officers Plead Not Guilty in The Hague - 2001-08-09

Three senior Bosnian Muslim wartime officers have pleaded innocent to war crimes charges before the United Nations tribunal in The Hague. The three men deny responsibility for war crimes against Croat and Serb civilians that were committed chiefly by foreign Muslim fighters during the 1992 to 1995 Bosnian War.

Retired generals Mehmed Alagic and Enver Hadzihasanovic and colonel Amir Kubura each entered 19 not guilty pleas to charges including murder, inhuman treatment, hostage-taking and destruction of religious sites.

The three men are the highest-ranking Bosnian Muslims to appear before the international war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

They were arrested last week by the authorities of Bosnia's Muslim-Croat Federation and handed over to the tribunal after the court issued sealed indictments against them.

The charges stem from a period of especially vicious fighting throughout 1993 between Bosnian Muslims and Croats, who started the war as allies against Bosnia's Serbs but later fought their own bitter conflict for territory in central Bosnia.

The three are not charged with having personally committed atrocities but for failing to prevent crimes perpetrated by fighters under their command or punishing those responsible for such crimes.

The indictment says that, as senior officers of the Bosnian Muslim army, the three oversaw the killing of civilians and prisoners of war, the use of hostages as human shields and the pillaging and destruction of several towns and villages.

Most of those crimes, say prosecutors, were committed by foreign Muslim mercenaries and volunteers from mainly Arab countries who went to Bosnia to help Bosnian Muslims defend themselves.

The three men denied they were responsible for the crimes, including the murder of at least 200 Bosnian Croat and Bosnian Serb civilians during Muslim attacks on Croat forces.

The trial of the three wartime officers will not start for several months. Meanwhile, the tribunal is increasing pressure on the authorities in Bosnia's Serb Republic to hand over the court's two most-wanted suspects: Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief, Ratko Mladic.