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Bosnian War Crimes Trial Begins

May 14, 1998 GMT

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) _ A Bosnian Serb accused of participating in the ``systematic extermination″ of Muslims during the Bosnian war went on trial Thursday on charges including murder, rape and being an accessory to genocide.

Maksim Sokolovic, 57, is the fourth Serb arrested on war crimes charges while in Germany and the last to be tried.

He told the state court in Duesseldorf that he was innocent of the charges and was not even in Bosnia during May and June of 1992, when the crimes occurred.

``I’m not interested in different nationalities or their beliefs,″ he told the court.

Sokolovic, a retired locksmith who has lived in Germany for 29 years, has been in custody since his arrest Dec. 16, 1996, at his apartment in Kamp-Lintfort, north of Duesseldorf.

Prosecutors charge Sokolovic was part of a paramilitary group that terrorized Muslims during the Bosnian war to oust them from areas the Serbs claimed.

According to the indictment issued Dec. 8, his group operated near Osmaci, 45 miles northeast of Sarajevo, where Sokolovic’s wife and three children still live.

Prosecutors alleged that on May 8, 1992, he pulled a Muslim from a prisoner transport and killed him with 20 shots from an automatic weapon, and the following month went to a woman’s house twice with men under his command and urged them to rape her.

Prosecutor Ronald Georg said the crimes were part of the Bosnia Serbs’ attempted ``systematic extermination″ of Muslims in Bosnia.

Sokolovic’s competence to stand trial was questioned Thursday by his court-appointed lawyer, Ruediger Deckers, who said his client suffered from attacks of paranoia and a persecution complex.

A state doctor declared his fit to be tried on Wednesday, but the court was to hear from another expert on Friday.

Of the other three Serbs arrested in Germany, two were convicted by German courts. One is serving a life sentence for genocide and murder, the other a five-year sentence for accessory to murder.

The U.N. tribunal for former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Netherlands, took over the case of the third Serb, Dusan Tadic. He was convicted and sentenced to 20 years for torture and killings.