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Bosnian-Serb Officials' Trial Starts in The Hague - 2002-01-23

The genocide trial of two former top Bosnian-Serb officials has begun at the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague. The two men are charged with masterminding the ethnic-cleansing campaign against Croats and Muslims in northwestern Bosnia in the early and mid-1990s.

On trial are Radoslav Brdjanin, a former Bosnian-Serb deputy prime minister, and Momir Talic, who was a top general in the Bosnian-Serb army.

The two men are accused of murdering and torturing hundreds of Croats and Muslims and expelling thousands more from the area of Bosnia known as Krajina, during the three year Bosnian war. They are charged with 12 counts of war crimes, including genocide.

Prosecutors say Mr. Brdjanin and General Talic were key players in a campaign to wipe out non-Serbs. They say the two acted under the orders of the international tribunal's two most wanted men, former Bosnian-Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief, Ratko Mladic.

The two defendants, who were arrested and handed over to the tribunal in 1999, have pleaded not guilty to all the charges against them.

The conflict in Bosnia lasted from 1992 to 1995. Prosecutors say that in its early stages, Mr. Brdjanin and General Talic swiftly moved to remove, either by force or through fear, all non-Serbs from Krajina. Mr. Karadzic had designated Krajina as part of an independent Serb state in Bosnia.

A 1991 census showed that Croats and Muslims made up just under one-half of Krajina's population. By the end of the following year, only a handful of non-Serbs remained there. Even today, many of the more than 100,000 people driven out of the area by the Serbs have not returned to their old homes.

Mr. Brdjanin is specifically charged with inciting Bosnian Serbs to commit crimes against their Croat and Muslim neighbors under the banner of defending the Serbian people. General Talic, says the indictment, was responsible for the murder and torture of non-Serbs and the destruction of churches and mosques committed by his troops.

So far, the Hague tribunal has only convicted one person of genocide: former Bosnian-Serb General Radislav Krstic. He was sentenced last August to 46 years in prison for the 1995 massacre of thousands of Muslims in and around the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.