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Friday, 20 July, 2001, 01:22 GMT 02:22 UK
Warlord on trial in Croatia
Fikret Abdic
Abdic's trials and tribulations have only increased his popularity among Bosnian Muslims
By Gabriel Partos south-east Europe analyst

Bosnian Muslim rebel leader Fikret Abdic has pleaded not guilty to killing civilians in a detention camp during the Bosnian war as his trial got underway in Croatia on Thursday.

The trial held in Karlovac was adjourned until 23 October to give judges time to consider the huge volume of evidence and allow witnesses from Bosnia to travel to Croatia.

President Alija Izetbegovic
He accused Izetbegovic of waging a "holy war".

Mr Abdic, known as "Babo" (Papa) by his followers, denounced the proceedings as a "rigged political trial" as he entered his not-guilty plea.

Mr Abdic, 62, led the breakaway administration of north-western Bosnia, which was at war with the mainly-Muslim central government in Sarajevo.

As a businessman, alleged fraudster and renegade Muslim leader, he is one of the most colourful figures to have emerged from the old Yugoslavia.

Extradition barred

Mr Abdic is being tried in Croatia, having taken Croatian citizenship after he took refuge there at the end of the Bosnian war in 1995.

The Croatian constitution bars the extradition of its citizens to another state - though not their transfer to The Hague war crimes tribunal.

His flight to Croatia followed the Bosnian government forces' capture of the region that Mr Abdic controlled as a personal fiefdom during the war.

It was part of an area, known as the Bihac pocket - a mostly Muslim-inhabited region of north-western Bosnia, which during the war was sandwiched between Serb-held areas of Bosnia and Croatia.

Wheeler dealer

Based in an old fortress in the town of Velika Kladusa, Mr Abdic's self-declared autonomous region of western Bosnia was at war with the Muslim-led central government that was headed by President Alija Izetbegovic.

A successful businessman, Mr Abdic was prepared to wheel and deal both with Serb separatists in Bosnia and Croatia and with the government in neighbouring Croatia.

Bihac refugees
Abdic is accused of killing civilians at a detention centre

His rebellion in 1993 followed disagreements with the fellow-Muslim Mr Izetbegovic whom he accused of waging a "holy war".

For his part, Mr Izetbegovic accused Mr Abdic of "a stab in the back".

The indictment against Mr Abdic accuses him of involvement in the deaths of 121 civilians and three prisoners of war during the internicine conflict involving supporters of the central government and Mr Abdic's followers.

The victims died in detention camps set up for those who opposed his drive for autonomy.

Fraud trial

This is not the first time Mr Abdic is facing a potential jail sentence.

He was first put on trial in 1987 in the former Yugoslavia's biggest fraud case when his agro-industrial concern, Agrokomerc, was accused of having issued worthless promissory notes to the tune of over $1bn.

Both his conviction and his subsequent acquittal on appeal were closely tied up with the politics of the time.

Vote winner

Mr Abdic's trials and tribulations only increased his popularity among Bosnian Muslims and during the 1990 elections for Bosnia's collective presidency, he emerged with the largest number of votes.

Had he - rather than Mr Izetbegovic - taken over as Bosnia's president, the history of the strife-torn Balkan country might have taken a completely different course as he was always willing to strike a bargain with Serb and Croat separatists.

Before the war Mr Abdic was worshipped by his followers for having transformed - through the Agrokomerc enterprise - the poverty-stricken region around Velika Kladusa into a prosperous area.

Now it looks like his luck has finally run out.

See also:

20 Feb 01 | Europe
Bosnia war criminals lose appeal
18 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Bosnia-Hercegovina
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