THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ The U.N. war crimes tribunal announced Thursday that it has indicted a Croat general, the second one in as many days. Both men are considered heroes in Croatia for defending the country during the Serbo-Croat war of the early 1990s.
As the arrest warrant for retired Gen. Ante Gotovina was being unsealed, Gen. Rahim Ademi pleaded innocent to charges of crimes against humanity. Ademi, whose indictment was made public Wednesday, was the first Croat to come before the court for crimes against Serbs.
The arrest warrant for Gotovina charged him with eight counts of war crimes linked to alleged atrocities in 1995.
Gotovina is still at large and has refused to surrender, but he has appointed an American attorney to defend him.
Ademi, an ethnic Kosovar Albanian, surrendered to the court Wednesday to face accusations in the murder of dozens of Serb civilians, including disabled elderly women, during an eight-day rampage in a Serb community in Croatia in September 1993.
Changing into a civilian suit from the military uniform he wore for his surrender, Ademi stood before presiding U.N. Judge Almiro Simoes Rodrigues of Portugal and entered a plea ``not guilty'' to each of five counts of crimes against humanity and violating the rules of war as they were read aloud by a court clerk.
``Your honor, I feel completely innocent. I am not guilty,'' Ademi told the court.
Beginning in June 1991, the Croats fought a six-month war for independence from Yugoslavia, with rebel Serbs capturing more than one-third of the territory. In 1993, the Croatian army retook some territory and in 1995 it won back the bulk of lost land, ending the fighting.
The tribunal's allegations against the two officers sparked public outrage in Croatia where they are considered heroes for defending the country from a Serb insurgency. Several Serbs have been prosecuted by the tribunal for atrocities during the conflict.
Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said she was ``aware that the indictments against Ante Gotovina and Rahim Ademi have generated heated debate within Croatia as to the role of the tribunal in relation to the 'Homeland War,' as the armed conflicts are known in Croatia.''
But she added that ``even within a lawful armed conflict, an individual may nevertheless commit serious violations of international humanitarian law.''
Gotovina's attorney, Luka Misetic, told The Associated Press the general's wartime activities led to the defeat of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and ``established peace in the region.''
But the unsealed indictment against him painted a less heroic picture.
On August 4, 1995, the Croatian forces launched ``Operation Storm,'' intending to retake the Krajina district of Croatia and western Bosnia from Serb rebels. The attack resulted in the displacement of up to 200,000 Krajina Serbs, who fled or were forced to flee, the indictment says.
Croatian soldiers under the general's authority killed ``at least 150'' Serbs and torched thousands of houses and farm buildings, prosecutors allege.
Misetic claimed that the operation was conducted under U.S. military command and that the indictment therefore was an implicit charge against the United States.
Del Ponte ``is certainly well aware of the fact that this was a U.S. operation, yet she has deliberately chosen to label it a pre-planned campaign of ethnic cleansing, instead of what it truly was: A successful U.S.-Croatian military operation that defeated Milosevic and established peace in the region,'' the lawyer said.
Both suspects could face life imprisonment if found guilty of any single charge of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war.