At the UN War Crimes Tribunal, a one-time bodyguard for former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic has gotten underway. Naser Oric is accused of overseeing the destruction of Serb villages and the torture of prisoners.
Naser Oric faces charges of destruction of villages and torture
The 37-year-old Oric is one of the few Muslims facing trial alongside dozens of Serb suspects. His case has been especially sensitive since his crimes allegedly took place in the region around the town of Srebrenica, where more then 7,000 Muslim civilians were murdered by Serb soldiers in 1995.
Oric, who was a police officer before the Balkans war besides a bodyguard for Milosevic, resurfaced in 1991 as a commander of Muslim forces. The UN court in The Hague says troops under his command destroyed 15 Serb villages and subjected prisoners in eastern Bosnia to physical abuse and beatings, including where people were beaten to death.
According to prosecutor Jan Wubben, who made the tribunal's opening statement, Oric approved of his men beating prisoners "with iron bars and wooden poles, the forced extraction of teeth and broken jaws." Seven men allegedly died from the beatings.
A view of two skulls with family pictures found near Srebrenica
These actions, in 1992 and 1993, are seen by some as having played a role in fueling anti-Muslim sentiment in the Srebrenica enclave before the infamous massacre in July 1995, the worst case of genocide in Europe since World War II.
Pillaging of villages
Oric also faces charges related to the destruction of villages around Srebrenica. During the siege of the town and surrounding area, fighters led by Oric broke through Serb lines and raided surrounding villages in search of weapons and food. He is blamed by Bosnian Serbs for the murder of around 2,000 Serbs from villages his troops plundered.
He is still seen by his supporters has a brave defender of Srebrenica and was eventually awarded the Bosnian army's highest honor, the "Golden Lily," for his actions there.
However, both he and UN peacekeepers were unable to protect the inhabitants of the besieged region, which was eventually overrun by Serb troops.
Oric faces six counts of violating the rules and customs of war, including murder, cruel treatment, wanton destruction and plunder. The charges against him are not directly related to the Srebrenica massacre, although lawyers are likely to bring the issue up.
New light on Milosevic?
Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic before the tribunal in The Hague
Some have speculated that Oric's trial could uncover more evidence against former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic (photo), who is currently facing war crimes charges in The Hague. But Jim Landsdale, a spokesman for the tribunal, said Oric's trial should not be considered a proxy for Milosevic's.
"[The trial] is focusing on specific charges against one individual, and that will be the focus of this trial," he said.
Both the prosecution and the defense have been given four months each to present their case to the court.Milosevic's trial, which has been in a month-long recess, resumes next week.