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Top Bosnian Serb Leader Goes on Trial for Genocide

The trial of former Bosnian Serb leader, Momcilo Krajisnik, has begun in The Hague. Krajisnik is charged with genocide and masterminding a campaign of ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian conflict from 1992 to 1995.

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The Bosnian war killed hundreds of thousands, many buried at the Sarajevo central cemetery.

Momcilo Krajisnik, 59, was the former speaker of the Bosnian Serb parliament, and the right-hand man of President Radovan Karadzic during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, which left an estimated 200,000 people dead.

Prosecutors at the International War Crimes Tribunal described him as "a shrewd and calculating man, and a committed and unrepentant Serb nationalist."

Establishing blame

Bosnischer Serbenführe Momcilo Krajisnik

Momcilo Krajisnik headshot, as Bosnian Serb member-elect of Bosnian Collective Presidency

Krajisnik's (photo) trial is seen as critical in establishing political blame for atrocities committed during the conflict, especially since Karadzic has so far eluded capture. Chief UN prosecutor Carla Del Ponte told Bosnian television that NATO-led troops missed capturing Karadzic by two hours last month.

On Tuesday, prosecutors in The Hague argued that because of his high-ranking position, Krajisnik had authority over the Bosnian Serb forces, and was responsible for orchestrating a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Biljana Plavsic

Former Bosnian Serb president Biljana Plavsic

Karadzic's successor to the Bosnian Serb presidency, Biljana Plavsic (photo) -- who was sentenced to 11 years in prison last year by the same tribunal -- named Krajisnik as one of the architects of the campaign to drive non-Serbs out of Serb-dominated areas in Bosnia.

"Along with Radovan Karadzic, it was his hand that held firmly the levers of power," said prosecutor Mark Harmon as he laid out his case, adding that, along with Karadzic and the tribunal's most prominent suspect, Slobodan Milosevic, Krajisnik was "vital for developing and promoting ethnocentric policies."

Krajisnik has pleaded innocent to eight counts of war crimes, including genocide and complicity in genocide. Previously, he said the indictment was too vague to be credible, and claimed the court had no jurisdiction to try him.

Possible life sentence

The former businessman was the co-founder of the Serb nationalist party in Bosnia along with Karadzic. He became speaker of the Bosnian parliament in 1990. Later, he was one of the negotiators of the Dayton peace accords which ended the conflict in 1995, though he earned the nickname "Mister No" for his uncompromising stance. After the war he served as the first Serb representative in the three-member Bosnian presidency, along with an ethnic

Croat and a Muslim.

Krajisnik was arrested at his home in Bosnia in April 2000 by French NATO troops. His trial was delayed by almost a year because his initial defence attorney was disqualified, having been suspended from the bar in New York for overcharging a client. Around 200 witnesses are expected to testify during the trial, which could take at least two years. If convicted, Krajisnik could face a life sentence.

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