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Bosnian Serb refuses to enter plea


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SPECIAL REPORT

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (Reuters) -- A Bosnian Serb former paramilitary on Friday declined to plead at The Hague tribunal to charges of raping and enslaving Muslim women in a house occupied by Serb soldiers during the Bosnian war.

Radovan Stankovic refused to plead to eight counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes in an indictment charging him with rape, enslavement and abuse in 1992 in the Bosnian town of Foca, prompting a judge to enter not guilty pleas on his behalf.

"I do not wish to enter a plea with regard to this indictment," said Stankovic, who also declined to plead to the charges last year during first appearance at the U.N. war crimes tribunal. The tribunal is seen by many Serbs as biased.

"I am guilty because I am Serb, because I was defending my Serbian people and my state," said the 34-year-old, emulating the courtroom defiance of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic.

Women and girls as young as 12 were raped, enslaved and tortured in Foca. The town's name became a byword for wartime rape when the Hague court convicted three former Bosnian Serb commanders in 2001 of rape and enslavement.

The tribunal set a precedent by prosecuting rape and sexual enslavement as crimes against humanity. The three received long jail terms that were later upheld by appeals judges.

Women and girls captured after Serb forces overran Foca, southeast of Sarajevo, were detained in apartments, houses and motels where they forced to cook and clean and were subjected to repeated sexual assaults, the indictment said.

Stankovic, a 34-year-old with dark hair and glasses, was in charge of one such house -- known as Karaman's house -- where at least nine women were detained from August to October 1992, according to the charges against him.

"At Karaman's house, the detainees constantly feared for their lives. If any of the women or girls refused to obey orders, they would be beaten. Soldiers often told the women that they would be killed after the soldiers were finished with them because they knew too much," the indictment said.

The judge in charge of the case urged Stankovic to carefully consider whether he wished to enter a plea but the accused repeatedly declined to do so as each charge was read out.

"It is my duty to enter a plea of not guilty on your behalf," judge Amin El Mahdi said.



Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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