Dragan Vasiljkovic.jpg
Photograph: HINA / Mario STRMOTIĆ / mm

Dragan Vasiljkovic, aka Captain Dragan, charged with war crimes against Croatian soldiers and civilians in the early 1990s, entered a plea of not guilty at a long-awaited trial that started at the Split County Court on Tuesday, amid tight security and intense media interest.

After a 20-minute arraignment, Vasiljkovic told the panel of judges, presided over by Judge Damir Romac, that he understood the indictment but absolutely did not feel guilty of any of the charges.

Vasiljkovic, who was born in Belgrade and holds the citizenship of Australia which extradited him to Croatia in July 2015, is charged with violating the Geneva Conventions by torturing and killing Croatian prisoners of war in a prison in Knin in June and July 1991 and in Bruska near Benkovac in February 1993.

He is also indicted for having planned in July 1991 in Glina, in agreement with the commander of a Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) tank unit, an attack on the police station in Glina, its suburb of Jukinac and the villages of Gornji Vidusevac and Donji Vidusevac. The prosecution alleges that during the attack civilian properties were damaged or destroyed, the local population was forced to flee their homes, their property was plundered and civilians were killed and wounded, including a foreign reporter.

Visibly skinnier than at the time of his extradition, while being led into the courtroom a handcuffed Vasiljkovic smiled at the audience, which included several diplomats. The courtroom was guarded by a dozen police officers and outside the court building there was a large number of uniformed police and plainclothes officers.

After taking part in the Serb rebellion in Croatia, Vasiljkovic returned to Australia where he lived under the name Daniel Snedden in Perth and worked as a golf instructor until his arrest in 2006.

It took the Australian government six years to extradite him.

Vasiljkovic, who holds both Serbian and Australian citizenship, is represented by attorneys Sladjana Cankovic and Tomislav Filakovac.

The Split County Court is expected to question 55 witnesses for the prosecution, and the defence has not yet named its witnesses.

The defence team expects Vasiljkovic to be released from custody since he has already been detained for 10 years in extradition prison in Australia. For that purpose, the defence team has reported the case to the United Nations' Human Rights Council, asking the Council to decide on a temporary measure regulating Vailjkovic's release during the trial.

The Split County Court previously turned down his request to be released on HRK 5 million bail.

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