June 14, 1997

Bosnian court rejects war crimes retrial for Serb

By Sabina Cosic

SARAJEVO - A Bosnian court has rejected a call for the retrial of a Serb soldier convicted of killing two Moslem brothers who were recently found alive.

Sretko Damjanovic was convicted of killing Kasim and Asim Blekic and four other Moslems in a much-publicised war crimes trial in 1993. His lawyer Branko Maric found the Blekic brothers alive and filed a retrial motion in December 1996.

``The court rejected my retrial motion as unfounded,'' Damjanovic's lawyer Maric told Reuters on Saturday, after being notified of the court decision earlier this week. He plans to appeal to Bosnia's Supreme Court.

``The court's decision confirmed that the brothers are alive but nevertheless stated that it does not qualify to bring a release or a conviction for a lesser crime,'' he added.

Maric argued in his motion that the prevailing evidence to convict his client for genocide was another Serb soldier's testimony, who was on trial with Damjanovic. The discovery that the brothers are alive puts that testimony in doubt, he said.

The Sarajevo court decision said that while the Blekic brothers' appearance could influence the sentence, it would not change the verdict of genocide.

Damjanovic and Borislav Herak were found guilty of genocide and crimes against civilians and prisoners of war while fighting for Serb forces around Sarajevo in 1992. They were sentenced to death but the sentence was not carried out.

Herak confessed to killing Moslem civilians and prisoners of war and to multiple rapes. He testified that Damjanovic killed the Blekic brothers in April 1992 and joined him in raping and looting.

Damjanovic admitted all charges during the investigation but withdrew his confession at the trial, claiming it was beaten out of him and showing scarred ribs as evidence.

The court's decision dismissed Maric's proposals for a new investigation and examination of evidence in the Vogosca area near Sarajevo, where the crimes were allegedly committed.

``The suggested acts of new investigation, event reconstruction, exhumation, autopsy etcetera, are not necessary because there was plenty of other evidence sufficient for a verdict,'' the court decision said.

The Office of the High Representative to Bosnia, the international body in charge of overseeing civilian aspects of the Bosnian peace accord, said it had been monitoring the appeal procedure for the past seven months and ranked the case as ``high priority.''

``We are concerned about the implications of the case and we will be taking active interest in the outcome of the appeals procedure at the Supreme Court,'' spokesman Duncan Bullivant said.

``We will be seeking to ensure that the rule of law remains the prime consideration and that inter-ethnic politics are not allowed to interfere,'' he said.

Maric said Herak and Damjanovic were put in the same cell last month for the first time since their arrest in November 1992.

``Throughout the original investigation and all these years they were kept strictly apart. If you are even contemplating a new trial and renewed questioning, then putting them together is nonsense,'' he said.

The decision stated that the court had requested a legal opinion from a state prosecutor, who gave his consent for a new trial. When a new prosecutor was appointed recently, the opinion was reversed.

``The new prosecutor happens to be the chief prosecutor from the original trial,'' Maric said.

Damjanovic was shocked to hear of the court's decision because he had clearly expected things to go the other way, Maric said. He added he was filing a complaint to the Supreme Court on Saturday.

``I think my chances are better. I reckon the higher the court, the more distant it is from politics.''


Associated Press

June 15, 1997

Court Rejects New Serb Trial

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) -- A Sarajevo court rejected a plea to give a Bosnian Serb a new trial even though two of the three men he was convicted of killing have been found alive, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Sretko Damjanovic was found guilty of war crimes and genocide, and sentenced to death in March 1993 for killing two Muslim brothers, Kasim and Asim Blekic, and a third man as the Bosnian war broke out. He is jailed in Sarajevo.

Damjanovic's lawyer Branko Maric, found the Blekic brothers alive in 1996 and appealed for a new trial.

The Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje said prosecutor Domin Malbasic agreed to a new trial, but that Malbasic since had been replaced. The new prosecutor, Munib Bisic, recommended that the court reject the appeal. A three-judge panel led by Judge Dzenana Latic went along with Bisic's recommendation, the paper said.

Damjanovic had been accused by co-defendant Borislav Herak of killing the Blekic brothers and four other people. Herak was the only one who provided evidence against Damjanovic.

In addition to the Blekic brothers, Damjanovic also was convicted of killing Ramiz Krso. A different man, Nebojsa Spiric, said in an interview on Bosnian Serb TV that he killed Krso.

Maric has indicated he would appeal an unfavorable ruling to the Supreme Court.