Goran Hadzic refuses to plea before UN war crimes court

Goran Hadzic at The Hague, 25 July 2011
Image caption Goran Hadzic declined to enter a plea

Croatian Serb wartime leader Goran Hadzic has refused to enter a plea at the UN war crimes court at The Hague.

Mr Hadzic, now 52, led Serb rebel forces during Croatia's 1991-95 war. He faces 14 war crimes charges, including persecution, extermination and torture.

He told the judges he had read the indictment against him, but declined to enter a plea. Under the rules, he can delay a plea for a month.

Mr Hadzic was arrested in Serbia last week, after seven years on the run.

"Mr Hadzic is not going to enter a plea today," his court-appointed attorney, Vladimir Petrovic, told the court in a hearing that lasted less than 15 minutes.

Judge O-Gon Kwon said another hearing would be set within 30 days for pleading. If Mr Hadzic continues to decline, not-guilty pleas will be entered on his behalf.

Mr Hadzic was a central figure in the self-proclaimed Serb republic of Krajina in 1992-1993, leading the campaign to block Croatia's independence from Yugoslavia.

He is held responsible for the massacre of almost 300 men in Vukovar in 1991 by Croatian Serb troops and for the deportation of 20,000 people from the town after it was captured.

After the war, Mr Hadzic lived openly in the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad until 2004, when the Hague War Crimes Tribunal indicted him and he disappeared. The breakthrough came when he tried to sell a stolen painting by Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani.

Mr Hadzic is the last fugitive of 161 indicted for war crimes during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

His arrest comes less than two months after Serbia caught former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic.

Correspondents say the country hopes the arrests and extraditions will allow it to draw a line under the war crimes story and move closer to European Union membership.

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