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Australia's High Court to hear Serb war crimes case

Written by: Staff
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CANBERRA, Mar 15 (Reuters) Australia's highest court today granted a hearing to a former Serb commander on his appeal against possible extradition to Croatia to face war-crimes charges.

Australian High Court judge William Gummow set April 13 as the day for Dragan Vasiljkovic to put his case to the court's full bench of seven judges.

Vasiljkovic, 51, who lives in Australia and also has Serbian citizenship, was arrested on January 19 and remains in jail, pending the extradition hearings.

Croatia holds Vasiljkovic responsible for torturing and killing Croat soldiers and civilians, as well as killing a foreign journalist, when he commanded a Serb paramilitary unit during Croatia's 1991-95 war of independence.

Vasiljkovic has dismissed all charges as malicious and isconstrued.

In documents filed to the court last month, he challenged his arrest and detention, and said the extradition proceedings had breached his rights under U.N. human rights conventions.

The documents said he should be immediately released from jail because Australia does not have a bilateral extradition treaty with Croatia.

He had also asked the High Court to grant him damages over his arrest, but Gummow today ruled the High Court would not consider his damages claim.

If the full bench of the High Court rules against him, Vasiljkovic's extradition case will return to the New South Wales local court.

If the courts rule that Vasiljkovic should be extradited, Australian Justice Minister Chris Ellison will decide whether to send him to Croatia to face trial.

Croatia declared independence from communist Yugoslavia in 1991, but its Serb minority, backed by Belgrade, rebelled and seized a third of the country by force. Croatia crushed the rebellion in two offensives in 1995.

REUTERS SB VC1055

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