The Zagreb County Court will decide by mid-March when Croatian Serb rebel leader Milan Martic and a military commander of the self-styled Republic of Serb Krajina, Milan Celeketic, charged with shelling Croatian towns in May 1995, will be put on trial in their absence.
The trial will be presided over by Zagreb judge Tomislav Jurisa, who has said that the preparatory hearing in the case would be continued on March 16 after it was adjourned on Tuesday so that the accused could be served with instructions on their rights.
Martic, whom the Hague-based UN criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has convicted of war crimes, has been serving his sentence in a prison in Estonia, while Celeketic is in Serbia which has refused to hand him over even though he has been receiving mail normally, according to sources at the Zagreb County Court.
In January 2003 the Zagreb County Prosecutor's Office indicted Martic and Celektic for a retaliatory shelling of Croatian towns following the Croatian military and police operation Flash, launched to claim back areas held by Serb rebels.
The Croatian authorities decided on the indictment after it became clear that the prosecution of the Hague tribunal, which charged Martic with the shelling of Zagreb, did not intend to indict also Celeketic, as well as that the tribunal's indictment did not refer to the shelling of Karlovac on May 1 and 2, 1995 and a rocket attack on Jastrebarsko on May 3, 1995.
The Croatian prosecutors charge Martic and Celeketic with crimes against humanity and international law committed through crimes against the civilian population. In October 2008 the Hague tribunal's appeals chamber upheld a verdict that sentenced Martic a year before to 35 years in prison for persecution, murder, torture, deportation and other crimes against humanity and violation of laws and customs of war, committed in the early 1990s against Croats and other non-Serbs in Croatia.
Martic was sentenced as a participant in a joint criminal enterprise led by former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. Apart from the shelling of Zagreb in May 1995, when seven people were killed and dozens were wounded, the verdict also cited a number of other crimes against Croat civilians in villages from Saborsko to Skabrnja, where hundreds were killed, mostly elderly people and women.