ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — A Serb paramilitary commander during the Balkan wars of the 1990s pleaded not guilty on Tuesday at the start of his war crimes trial in Croatia, saying the accusations against him are trumped-up.
Dragan Vasiljkovic, also known as Captain Dragan and Daniel Snedden, is charged with killings and torture of civilians and imprisoned Croatian police and army troops while he was a rebel Serb commander during the 1991-95 Croatian war.
The charges carry a maximum 20-year prison sentence in Croatia.
Vasiljkovic's trial is being held in the coastal town of Split under heavy security. The proceedings opened with the reading of the indictment before Vasiljkovic entered his plea.
"It's all a lie," Vasiljkovic told the court, according to Croatia's state HINA news agency. "The only crime here has been committed against me because I have been in jail for 11 years without a verdict,"
"This is a staged story. ... The indictment is comical, shameless and insolent" he added. "I defended my homeland Yugoslavia which I loved very much."
Vasiljkovic, 61, who was born in Serbia, went to Australia at the age of 15 but returned to the Balkans to train Croatian Serb rebels in 1991, when Serbs took up arms against Croatia's secession from Yugoslavia.
The indictment alleges that Vasiljkovic was responsible for the torture and killings of prisoners in the rebel stronghold of Knin, and the attack in 1991 on a police station in the town of Glina in which civilians were expelled, robbed and killed, including a foreign journalist.
Vasiljkovic has remained in custody since he was extradited from Australia in July last year after fighting a 10-year legal battle against being handed over to the Croatian judiciary.
HINA said the prosecution will present 55 witnesses in the coming months of the trial. Defense lawyers said they will seek to prove that Vasiljkovic was not in command but was an adventurer and an instructor for the special troops.
Some 10,000 people died in the Croatian war.