The defense counsel for the five accused and Slobodan Praljak, the sixth accused who represented himself at the status conference today for the first time, refuse to accept "the adjudicated facts" the prosecutor offered them. Jadranko Prlic's defense counsel believes the forthcoming trial will in fact be "a trial in absentia of Franjo Tudjman, Gojko Susak, Janko Bobetko" and other top officials in the Republic of Croatia

Jadranko Prlic and Bruno Stojic in the front row and Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petkovic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic in the back rowJadranko Prlic and Bruno Stojic in the front row and Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petkovic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic in the back row

The trial of Jadranko Prlic and other five military and political leaders of the so-called Herceg-Bosna will start in February or March 2006, Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti said today at the status conference. Jadranko Prlic will be joined in the dock by the former HVO commanders Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petkovic and Valentin Coric, Herceg-Bosna defense minister Bruno Stojic and the chairman of the HVO commission for the exchange of prisoners, Berislav Pusic.

According to Prlic's defense counsel, American lawyer Michael Karnavas, this will not be a trial of just the six accused Herceg-Bosna leaders, but "a trial in absentia of the late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, defense minister Susak, General Bobetko" and other top officials in the Republic of Croatia. The indictment alleges they played the leading role in the joint criminal enterprise in the course of which the Croatian Army joined in the Croat-Bosniak conflict in Herzegovina and Central Bosnia in 1993.

The defense counsel for the five accused, and Slobodan Praljak, representing himself for the first time at the status conference today, refuse to accept the fact adjudicated in previous trials, proposed by the prosecution in order to speed up the proceedings. The defense lawyers consider that some of the facts adjudicated in the cases dealing with the crimes committed in the Croat-Bosniak conflicts in 1993 (Naletilic-Martinovic, Blaskic, Kordic-Cerkez, Aleksovski, Kupreskic et al.) have been "wrongly determined" and that those cases were "much narrower" than the case against the accused Herceg-Bosna leaders. Debuting as his own defense counsel, Slobodan Praljak said today that he was "not ready to accept any fact not based on the totality of events" in BH and Croatia in 1993.

Tomislav Jonjic, representing Valentin Coric, noted that the judgment in the Mostar case was not yet final, because the Appeals Chamber had not yet rendered its decision on the appeals. He added that all the final judgments in the cases dealing with the Lasva valley crimes could be brought into doubt if the confidential prosecution motion seeking the review of the appeal judgment in one of the cases is accepted. The review of that judgment could, in his opinion, result in "a domino effect" on all the other adjudicated cases. Prosecutor Kenneth Scott replied to this remark in closed session.

In reply to the defense remarks, prosecutor Scott quoted the fact of the international character of the conflict in BH in 1993 as an example of the fact that has been adjudicated several times. A total of 14 judges sitting in three Trial Chambers and the Appeals Chamber found that this was so, and there has not been a single separate or dissenting opinion, he noted, that might give the defense counsel of the six Herceg-Bosna leaders any hope that in their case the judges might find differently.