Two days after his transfer to the UN Detention Unit from Spain, General Ante Gotovina pleaded not guilty to seven counts in the indictment. His lawyer Luka Misetic says that the general's "message on every count of the indictment is, 'I am not the man who is guilty'…"

Ante Gotovina's first appearance in the courtroomAnte Gotovina's first appearance in the courtroom

"Your Honor, not guilty". Ante Gotovina repeated those words seven times today, entering his plea to each of the seven counts of the indictment charging him with crimes against humanity and violations of laws and customs of war.

Although the accused stated, through Dutch lawyer Knops, appointed to represent him at the initial appearance by the Registry, that he would waive his right to have the indictment read to him, Judge Carmel Agius called for it to be read out in full, including the schedule with the names, age and cause of death of some of the victims. The judge justified that by the fact that the accused had been a fugitive for four years and the obligations the Tribunal had before the public and the crime victims.

The initial indictment for the crimes committed in the course of and after Operation Storm was issued in May 2001. It was amended in February 2004. General Gotovina is charged with participation, together with generals Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac and the late president Tudjman, in a "joint criminal enterprise" whose purpose was "forcible and permanent" removal of the Serb population from the Krajina area. As the main operations commander of the Croatian forces deployed in Sector South during Operation Storm, Gotovina is charged with persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds, deportation or forced displacement of tens of thousands of Krajina Serbs and other inhumane acts. He is charged on the basis of both individual responsibility, for having "planned, instigated, ordered, committed, or otherwise aided and abetted" the crimes, and on the basis of command responsibility, for having failed to prevent his subordinates or punish them for the crimes.

Before pleading not guilty to all seven counts in the indictment, Ante Gotovina gave "Tenerife, Spain" as his last address before coming to The Hague, but did not state the exact address the judge had asked him for.

Apart from numerous Croatian reporters, former Croatian politician Drazen Budisa also followed Gotovina's initial appearance from the public gallery. After the hearing, Budisa stated he had come to The Hague "to give support to General Gotovina" because in his opinion "it is high time for the Croatian government to set up a support mechanism for the persons indicted by the ICTY".

Because all the formalities regarding their appointment have not been settled yet at the Registry, lawyers Luka Misetic and Marin Ivanovic followed the initial appearance of their client from the public gallery. After the hearing they said Gotovina would "focus on his own defense" and that his message on every count of the indictment was, 'I am not the man who is guilty'. Misetic also announced they would be filing a motion for Gotovina's provisional release pending trial and indicated his client would be talking to the prosecutors only if the interview could possibly result in the dropping of charges against him. Misetic expects Gotovina, Cermak and Markac to be tried together, and the trial to begin in six to nine months.