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14 January 2016

Defense Presents Closing Statements at Trial of Three Kotor Varos Territorial Defense Members

Emina Dizdarevic BIRN BiH Sarajevo

The defense teams of three former Territorial Defense soldiers charged with war crimes in Kotor Varos have called upon the state court’s appeal chamber to hand down verdicts of release. The defense states their clients didn’t participate in an attack on civilians in the village of Serdari in 1992. The verdict is scheduled for February 4.

Fikret Planincic, Sead Menzil and Mirsad Vatrac have been charged with participating in an attack on the village of Serdari in the Kotor Varos area on September 17, 1992. Sixteen civilians, including women and children, were killed during the attack.

Under a first instance verdict handed down in January 2014, Planincic and Menzil were found guilty of participating in the Serdari attack and were sentenced to 11 and a half years in prison. Vatrac was also found guilty and was sentenced to ten and a half years in prison. The appeals chamber repealed the verdict and ordered a retrial.

Addressing the appeals chamber, Planincic’s defense attorney Bekir Ferizovic said the court had to carefully analyze each of the different ways in which his client was identified. As witnesses claimed they had recognized Planinic from his voice during the attack, Ferizovic said this method of identification was unreliable.

“Witness Joco Serdar indicated that he recognized Planincic from his voice. At the main trial, Radmila Serdar said she thought and was pretty sure that Planincic was in the house in which the attack happened,” Ferizovic said.

Ferizovic said the identity of the person who had opened fire and threw an explosive device into the Serdar family home still hadn’t been established. He added that no external examination of bodies or autopsies had been conducted.

“The expert witness was unable to specify what injuries they had and what caused them,” Ferizovic said, calling upon the court to hand down a verdict of release based on his client’s presumption of innocence.

Planincic addressed the court and expressed his condolences to families who had suffered as a result of the attack. However, he said he didn’t participate in the crimes charged against him.

Menzil’s defense attorney, Adil Draganovic, said the prosecution failed to prove that his client had committed the crimes charged against him. He also said the prosecution’s argument that Serdari was located outside of the combat zone was unacceptable.

“Military expert witness Senad Kljajic determined that combat activities were conducted in Serdari and that civilians should have been moved out instead of armed to participate in combat. Defense witnesses said local village residents were armed and participated in attacks,” Draganovic said.

Draganovic described testimony given by Gina Kukric, the only prosecution witness who said Menzil was in the Serdar’s yard during the attack. He said Kukric was unable to identify Menzil because she didn’t know him.

“I believe that my client did not commit the crime charged against him. Really, not a single piece of evidence indicates that he participated in it in any way. I propose that the court to acquit him of charges,” Draganovic said.

Fadil Abaz, Mensur Vatrac’s defense attorney, said all the evidence was based on Gina Kukric’s testimony. In her testimony, Kukric said she had seen Vatrac during the attack on Serdari. Abaz said Kukric didn’t see Vatrac shoot or participate in the attack, adding that Nedeljko Sakan’s testimony excluded the possibility that Vatrac took part in the attack on Serdari.

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