Thanking court, first Serbs to surrender plead innocent

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The only Bosnian Serbs to surrender to the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal pleaded innocent Tuesday — and thanked U.S. diplomats and NATO troops for helping them get to the U.N. court.
Milan Simic and Miroslav Tadic gave themselves up in Bosnia on Saturday to face charges they took part in a 1992 Serb terror campaign aimed at driving Bosnian Croats and Muslims out of the town of Bosanski Samac in northern Bosnia.
Surprisingly, the two expressed appreciation at their arraignments Tuesday for the efforts of those who helped bring them before the tribunal — where, if convicted, they face possible life sentences.
The surrenders could mark a turning point — or simply a fluke — in the tribunal’s efforts to bring those accused of wartime atrocities to justice. In the past, Serbs have branded the court anti-Serbian and refused to stand trial here; one Bosnian Serb was killed in a clash with Western forces trying to capture him for trial.
Most of the 52 indicted suspects still at large are ethnic Serbs, including wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief, Gen. Ratko Mladic.
Simic and Tadic were among six Serbs indicted in July 1995 for alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes. A 10-page indictment alleges the two participated in “a campaign of terror” to drive Bosnian Croat and Muslim residents from Bosanski Samac.
After taking control of the town in 1992, Bosnian Serbs set up camps where non-Serbs were beaten, tortured, raped and killed, according to the indictment. Before 1992, about 17,000 non-Serbs were living in Bosanksi Samac; by May 1995 there were fewer than 300.
Simic, 37, was a town official at the time of the alleged crimes. Tadic, 60, a former teacher, is accused of helping carry out the mass deportation of non-Serbs from the area to camps between April and September