A former commander of Bosnian Muslims, appearing before the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, has pleaded not guilty to six counts of war crimes against Serbs. Naser Oric is considered a hero to many Bosnian Muslims, but prosecutors in The Hague have charged him with murder, cruel treatment and plunder.
It took less than 15 minutes for Bosnian Muslim Naser Oric to plead not guilty to all six counts against him. He showed no emotion as the charges were read out and he entered his pleas to charges including murder in violation of the Geneva Conventions.
The crimes with which Naser Oric is charged were allegedly committed in the Srebrenica area of Bosnia, a place more notorious for the 1995 massacre of about 8,000 Muslims.
Prosecutors have charged Mr. Oric, who led the defense of that so-called United Nations safe area, with the murder and abuse of Serb prisoners and the burning and plunder of at least 50 mostly Serb villages.
As commander of all Bosnian-Muslim forces in the area in 1992 and 1993, prosecutors say, Mr. Oric must bear responsibility for implementing what they call a strategy of wanton destruction.
Mr. Oric was arrested last week outside his home in the Bosnian city of Tuzla in an operation that neighbors say lasted less than two minutes. His indictment was kept secret until his capture.
NATO Secretary General George Robertson praised the arrest and called again for Bosnian-Serb wartime leaders Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic to turn themselves in. Both men are indicted in charges of genocide in the Srebrenica massacres.
The fact that they are still free, while Mr. Oric is now in custody, has outraged many Srebrenica survivors who see Naser Oric as their defender.
But many Serbs also claim judicial bias, saying the Hague tribunal has indicted more Serbs than Muslims. Mr. Oric's trial is likely months away.
He will be held in the same prison as former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. Before the war, Naser Oric was one of Mr. Milosevic's bodyguards.