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Monday, 20 March, 2000, 13:15 GMT
Bosnian rape camp trial opens
Dragoljub Kunarac, left, and Radomir Kovac
Dragoljub Kunarac, left, and Radomir Kovac in court

Three Bosnian Serbs commanders accused of forcing Muslim women into sexual slavery have gone on trial at the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

Radomir Kovac, Dragoljub Kunarac and Zoran Vukovic are accused of detaining Bosnian Muslim women in a school, a sports hall and other locations in Foca in southeast Bosnia.


Zoran Vukovic
The third defendent, Zoran Vukovic
Soldiers and paramilitaries sexually assaulted the women nightly.

The trial opened on Monday with a prosecutor linking the organised sexual assault to the Serb leadership's ethnic cleansing campaign in the 1992-95 war.

"What happened to the Muslim women of Foca occurred because of their ethnicity and religion and also because they were women," prosecutor Dirk Ryneveld said.

Some of the victims were as young as 12.

"They were brutalised and dehumanised and sexually assaulted by their captors, including the three men who sit before you," Mr Ryneveld said.

The three men are jointly accused on 33 counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war. They face a maximum of life imprisonment.

The defendants pleaded innocent to the war crimes and crimes against humanity charges.


Recent cases
Radislav Krstic, on trial for Srebrenica massacre
Tihomir Blaskic, 45 years for ethnic cleansing
Dusan Tadic, 25-year sentence cut to five for murdering Muslims and Croats
The trial marks the first time an international court has judged a sexual enslavement case.

UN prosecutors hope to make wartime sexual assault one of the most grievous crimes under international law.

There were reports of rape by all sides in dozens of camps across Bosnia in the 1992-95 war.

In 1993, a European Community commission estimated 20,000 rape victims in the conflict.

The Bosnian Government put the figure at 50,000.

Gang-raped

In April 1992, Bosnian Serb troops took over Foca, where roughly half of the 40,000 residents were Muslims.


Muslim women
Foca's 20,000 Muslims fled during the war
After the war, no Muslims remained and the town was renamed Srbnje.

According to the indictment, the defendants detained dozens of women in the rape camps during the war.

Prosecutors said many victims suffered permanent gynaecological damage in addition to psychological scars.

Up to eight soldiers allegedly gang-raped the women nightly. Those who fell pregnant were forced to give birth.

A victim's pre-trial statement said: "I felt like an object that was constantly being exchanged. I never knew what was going to happen to me in the following days. All the time I was afraid for my life".

At least 10 women are expected to testify, behind screens and with their voices scrambled.

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See also:

02 Aug 99 | Europe
Nato grabs war crimes suspect
13 Mar 00 | Europe
Bosnia massacre trial opens
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