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Suspected Yugoslav War Criminal Pleads Not Guilty - 2003-07-10

A former Yugoslav army officer has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from one of the Balkans war's worst massacres, the shooting of at least 200 non-Serbs captured from Croatia's Vukovar Hospital in 1991.

The Yugoslav officer, Colonel Veselin Sljivancanin, had been wanted by the United Nations war crimes tribunal for eight years. He was finally arrested last month by Serbian police after a 10-hour standoff between them and his supporters outside his Belgrade home.

Appearing without a lawyer before Judge Carmel Agius, Colonel Sljivancanin pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him, including six counts of crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, including murder and inhumane acts.

Judge: "How do you wish to plead to this first count? Do you plead guilty or not guilty?"

Sljivancani: "The indictments I read is full of errors that relate to myself, so therefore the plea I want to enter is a plea of not guilty."

Colonel Sljivancanin, one of the Vukovar Three army officers, was a commander in the Yugoslav army when it overran the Croatian town of Vukovar in 1991. After the town fell, prosecutors say, Serb forces rounded up non-Serbs from the town's hospital, where many people had taken refuge.

Prosecutors say some 200 of them were driven to a nearby farm and executed. Their bodies were later exhumed from a mass grave. Prosecutors say another 50 people are still missing. The names of the dead and missing take up half of the 10-page indictment against the colonel.

Colonel Sljivancanin is the fifth person sent to the U.N. war crimes court by Serbian authorities following the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic earlier this year.

During the rule of Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia, the court's prosecutors twice reported that country to the United Nations Security Council for failing to arrest the colonel.

The tribunal's deputy prosecutor, Graham Blewitt, says prosecutors are still waiting for Belgrade to arrest and transfer all remaining fugitives, including Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, and for access to all documents they seek.