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War Crimes Trial Begins in Belgrade - 2004-03-09

The trial of six Serbs accused of committing war crimes in a Croatian town more than 12 years ago has opened in Belgrade.

The defendants in the first major war crimes case to be tried in Serbia are among eight men alleged to have taken part in the killing of nearly 200 people in Vukovar in eastern Croatia in November of 1991.

One of the eight died Monday, two months after a suicide attempt, while another has turned state's witness.

The trial, which opened Tuesday, is considered a key test for Serbia's special court set up to deal with war crimes in the region.

Serbia established the special tribunal last June with the help of the United States and other Western countries.

The United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague has allowed local courts to handle some of the less important cases.

Three Yugoslav military officers are facing trial before the Hague tribunal in connection with the massacre. Two of the officers, General Mile Mrksic and Captain Miroslav Radic, surrendered voluntarily. Yugoslav authorities surrendered the third suspect, Colonel Veselin Sljivancanin, to the court in July. All three have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AFP.