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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prosecutors: Serb LeadersSet Policy Of Atrocity

THE HAGUE -- The Yugoslav tribunal Thursday opened hearings blaming Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic for a comprehensive strategy of genocide during Bosnia's 43-month war.

Karadzic and Mladic, both indicted twice for genocide and crimes against humanity, are still on the loose in Serb-controlled Bosnia with local authorities and international troops unwilling to arrest them.

"The prosecution submits it would be inconceivable that the accused, Karadzic and Mladic, did not give their approval in the massive [Serb] criminal operation of ethnic cleansing often genocidal in character," Swedish prosecutor Eric Ostberg said in his opening statement.

The relevance of the UN tribunal is in the balance since so far it has only got its hands on relatively minor figures.

In a break in proceedings, the tribunal announced indictments against eight Bosnian Serbs charged with a campaign of rape against Muslim women and nine Bosnian Croats accused of atrocities against Bosnian Muslims.

Karadzic is apparently paying more attention to the tribunal than he ever has in the past, sending a lawyer to listen to the proceedings.

But Belgrade attorney Igor Pantelic was allowed to stay in court only long enough to hear the two indictments against Karadzic and Mladic read before being ordered out by presiding judge Claude Jorda of France. Pantelic resigned in protest, he told the waiting media.

"I just informed .. the tribunal that ... I am not the defense counsel of Mr. Karadzic in this particular case," Pantelic said.

"I am completely disappointed in this approach of the tribunal in connection with really important and major human rights of one accused," he said, referring to Karadzic's right to legal defense. In the background, a Bosnian Muslim protester chanted, "Karadzic Murderer."

Ostberg said, "The prosecution welcomes the fact that Radovan Karadzic seems to have recognized this tribunal" by sending his lawyer. But objecting to Pantelic's presence, Ostberg added, "This is not a trial in absentia. I think .. that the presence of the counsel would transform these proceedings ... into some kind of trial in absentia."

Ostberg said Pantelic would be welcome only if he brought along his absentee client, who has repeatedly rejected the authority of the UN court and recently said the Bosnian Serbs would organize their own war crimes tribunal.

The hearing eventually started more than three hours late with the court registrar reading out the indictments. The evidence hearing is aimed at creating "a climate inviting political leaders to adopt a robust policy with regard to the effective arrest of the accused," according to a tribunal statement.

But it is also a tacit admission by the tribunal that it has little chance of immediately getting its hands on either.

From the earliest shellings of Sarajevo to the alleged slaughter of Muslims in Srebrenica in July last year, prosecutors claim Karadzic and Mladic had a steering role in a campaign of Serb atrocities against Bosnia's non-Serb population.

Up to 15 witnesses, including Canadian and Dutch UN peacekeepers, the mayor of Sarajevo and former UN observers, will give testimony during the hearing.

The Dayton peace accords require the former warring parties as well as soldiers of the NATO-led peace implementation force, or IFOR, to arrest and surrender suspects indicted by the tribunal.

But the Serbs have so far rejected any such move, and IFOR says that's not its primary job.