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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

War Criminal Faces Retrial on Appeal

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- In the first major appeals decision by the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, judges Tuesday ordered a convicted killer to enter a new plea on charges stemming from a 1995 massacre of Moslems.

The decision may lead to a trial for Drazen Erdemovic, a Bosnian Croat who pleaded guilty last year to a crime against humanity for taking part in the July 1995 massacre in Srebrenica, a mostly Moslem enclave in northeastern Bosnia.

Tribunal president Antonio Cassese told Erdemovic that he could either plead guilty again to a crime against humanity, plead guilty to a lesser war crime charge or plead innocent and stand trial.

"These are your choices. They may be difficult, but they are at least clear," Cassese said, urging Erdemovic to "weigh the matter deeply" before deciding on a new plea.

No date was immediately set for the new plea to be entered. Erdemovic said he did not want to stand trial before the UN court "for the sake of my family."

Erdemovic, who fought with the Bosnian Serb army, admitted last year to taking part in the slaughter of hundreds of Moslem men at Srebrenica.

As part of a Bosnian Serb firing squad, he gunned down captured Moslem men, many of them blindfolded and with their hands bound behind their backs.

Erdemovic maintains he was forced to take part in the massacre or be shot by his fellow troops.

But tribunal judges said in Tuesday's ruling that "duress does not afford a complete defense to a soldier charged with a crime against humanity or a war crime involving the killing of innocent human beings."

Erdemovic was sentenced to 10 years in prison last November after pleading guilty to a single crime against humanity. His plea meant that he was not tried, but judges ruled that his original guilty plea was entered without him knowing the full implications.

"Our only concern now is that you enter an informed plea, that is, one made with an understanding by you of the nature of the charges pending against you and the consequences of your plea," Cassese said.

Looking tired and depressed, Erdemovic, wearing a blue denim shirt, sat slumped in his chair flanked by United Nations guards. He stood after Tuesday's brief appeal hearing and said he was ready to serve his original sentence.

"I simply have to say that I do not wish, not on my behalf, but because of my family, to have another trial," he said. "I do not wish, because of my family, for my name to be mentioned [again] on television, radio or anything like that."

Erdemovic appealed in December against his sentence. His lawyers argued that some facts had been insufficiently established, that the killings had not been premeditated and that Erdemovic had not been responsible for his actions because he was under extreme duress.