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Monday, April 12, 1999 Published at 11:15 GMT 12:15 UK

World: Europe

Top war crimes suspect goes on trial

Dario Kordic - accused of attempting "ethnic cleansing"

The trial of the most senior political figure detained by the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal has started at the Hague.

Dario Kordic, the former vice president of the self-declared Croat state within Bosnia-Hercegovina, is being tried along with a local army commander, Mario Cerkez. Both men are charged with the systematic persecution of Bosnian Muslims in central Bosnia in 1993.

In his opening remarks Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice said the two men, "took part in a long and widespread persecution of Muslims in central Bosnia".

They are accused of being responsible for the slaughter of at least 100 civilians, and of trying to ethnically cleanse central Bosnia of most of its Muslim population.

The prosecutors say Mr Kordic was part of the highest circle of the Bosnian-Croat military and political leadership.

'Village turned red'

The indictment lists Bosnian Muslim villages attacked, civilians killed or used as human shields, and people forced out of their homes.

In one attack on the village of Ahmici more than 100 people, including women and children, were killed.

Prosecutor Nice said: "the village was turned red by the flames which burned its houses and the blood of its people."

Confident defence

Both men have pleaded not guilty on all charges.

Mr Kordic's lawyers issued a statement on Monday expressing confidence "that when all the evidence has been heard, justice will be done and he will be found innocent."

They could face life imprisonment if convicted of even one of the 22 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity lodged against them.

As the prosecution laid out its case, Mr Kordic, 38, stared blankly, while Mr Cerkez, 40, occasionally took notes.

Complex trial

Mr Kordic has seven lawyers representing him, and our correspondent, Gillian Sharpe, says the trial will be long and complex.

Both men are accused of planning, instigating, ordering or executing a crime against humanity.

Dario Kordic and Mario Cerkez were part of a group of Bosnian Croats which surrendered to the tribunal in 1997.

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