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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 March, 2005, 16:06 GMT
War crimes court opens in Bosnia
Police at Sarajevo's war crimes court
The Bosnian court aims to ease the pressure on the UN tribunal
War crimes suspects will for the first time face trial within the Balkans after the opening of a specialist court in Bosnia.

Until now, the most serious cases dating from the wars of the early 1990s have been dealt with by the UN's War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

It is hoped the new court will help ease the pressure on The Hague, which is due to complete its task by 2010.

About 50 suspects are still awaiting trial at The Hague.

The tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, said in December that she had asked for the transfer of seven cases to Bosnia.

'Major step'

As well as those indicted at The Hague, the Sarajevo chamber will also deal with war crimes trials instigated locally. It will have a panel of three judges - one local and two international.

Clearly there will be numerous challenges and obstacles in the way. However, you will have a luxury of no deadlines to complete the task
Carla del Ponte,
UN chief prosecutor
Many procedures have been adopted from the UN tribunal, including a witness protection scheme.

The president of The Hague tribunal, Theodore Meron, and Mrs Del Ponte were at the chamber's opening.

"We always say that there were thousands of perpetrators of war crimes and that the [UN] tribunal was not designed to deal with all of them," said Mrs Del Ponte.

She added that the court's task would be "more difficult as you don't have the powers of the international tribunal".

"However, your power and authority is even greater as this is your country," she said.

Bosnia's judicial system has been overhauled during the past few years, enabling it to deal with some of the most serious war-related cases.

The BBC's Nick Hawton in Sarajevo says while Bosnia is likely to be the first country of the former Yugoslavia to take on such cases, Serbia and Croatia are also hoping to follow suit in the very near future.

Paddy Ashdown, the internationally-appointed High Representative for Bosnia, said the new tribunal was "a major step forward to full statehood," for the country.

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