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Bosnia: Former Prijedor Mayor Accused of Genocide - 2002-04-16

The former mayor of the Bosnian city of Prijedor is facing eight counts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Milomir Stakic is accused of helping to create three notorious prison camps where thousands of Muslims and Croats were imprisoned, tortured, raped or killed.

Once a medical doctor, Milomir Stakic, 40, listened impassively as prosecutors accused him of murder, extermination and genocide as his trial opened.

It is alleged that he headed the wartime government of Prijedor, a region in northwest Bosnia that prosecutors say has become notorious for perfecting what is known as ethnic cleansing. Prosecutors say Stakic, as its mayor, had the final say in all of the municipality's decisions during five-months of war in 1992.

That includes the setting up of three infamous prison camps: Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje. Thousands of non-Serbs were held prisoner and hundreds were mass murdered, tortured and sexually abused.

The ultimate goal of the crimes, say prosecutors, was to force the non-Serbs to flee the areas they had been living in for generations, leaving behind an ethnically pure Serb state.

But it was the way in which they went about it, said prosecutor Joanna Korner, that shows the true intentions of the Bosnian Serbs.

She said the ferocity of their methods, the scale of killing, the deliberate targeting of Muslim and Croat leaders, and the destruction of villages was intended to destroy the Bosnian-Muslim and Croat population in Prijedor. "The prosecution says all of this demonstrates an intention to destroy, at least in part, the Bosnian-Muslim and Bosnian-Croat population in Prijedor, in other words, the most serious crime of all, genocide," she said.

Mr. Stakic is no mere fellow traveler or figurehead, said Ms. Korner, but the man who signed all the documents. She said he is the leader who said Muslims should not be part of Prijedor's government because Prijedor was Serb land.

Defense lawyers acknowledge that Mr. Stakic's signature features prominently on official documents, but they say they have proof he was just a young man being used by those who had the real decision-making powers. That includes two other men indicted with Mr. Stakic who are now dead.

Some of his superiors, the heads of the regional Bosnian-Serb wartime governments, are now on trial in the courtroom below his. Many of his subordinates, the camp commanders, have already been sentenced. And two of Bosnia's top Serb political leaders, Momcilo Krajisnik and Biljana Plavsic, are awaiting trial.

The two men still notably absent, though, are those who were in ultimate control: former Bosnian-Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic.

Milomir Stakic was the first man handed over to the Tribunal by Belgrade authorities last year. Now that the Yugoslav Parliament has passed a law on cooperation with the tribunal, prosecutors are expecting the rest of those indicted to follow soon.