UN Tribunal releases two suspects pending trial

THE HAGUE, Apr 20, 2000 -- (Reuters) Two Bosnian Serbs facing war crimes charges will be released on Wednesday until their trial begins because they have been in custody for too long, the UN tribunal said.

Miroslav Tadic, 62, and Simo Zaric, 51, have been in the detention center of the United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia since surrendering in February 1998.

The start of their trial has been continually delayed due to complaints by a co-defendant. In early April, a trial chamber provisionally ordered that the two should be allowed to go home.

The release order is almost without precedent. Another war crimes suspect, Milan Simic, was allowed to return to Bosnia only because he was ill. Others have been released because of family bereavement.

Prosecutors lodged an appeal, but it was rejected by the appeals chamber on Wednesday.

Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte was "deeply alarmed" at the decision, her office said in a statement. Although both suspects had surrendered voluntarily, prosecutors said their releases would "have a very negative impact on the victims and witnesses" in the Bosanski Samac region of northeastern Bosnia.

Tadic and Zaric were allegedly members of a defense unit sponsored by the Yugoslav Army in Bosanski Samac and also served on the so-called Serb Crisis Staff in the area. They are accused with others of persecuting Bosnian Croats and Moslems when Serbs ethnically cleansed the Bosanski Samac region.

The tribunal may release suspects if it is convinced they will return for trial and if they pose no danger to others. In the release order, the tribunal said the fact the two had surrendered voluntarily had convinced it both would come back.

The chamber must also consider how long suspects have been awaiting trial as well as the willingness of the host country to cooperate with the tribunal.

Both suspects, if released, would have to remain near their homes, report to police every day and avoid contact with each other or with potential witnesses.

Del Ponte's office said she would carefully monitor the activities of the men. "If there is any suggestion that they, or persons on their behalf, are interfering with witnesses or evidence, the prosecutor will not hesitate to seek the re-arrest of the accused," it warned.

Original article