Source AP ©

A Croat retried for wartime murders of police officials

At a retrial on charges of killing of three police officials a Croatian suspect pleaded not guilty. The tragedy took place in the early days of the 1991 Serbo-Croat war – many believe that this accident helped fan the fighting.

Antun Gudelj is accused in the killing of the Croatian district police chief in Osijek, eastern Croatia, and two of his aides, which further raised tensions between Croats and Serbs.

The police chief, Josip Reihl-Kir, had tried to mediate between Serbs and Croats to try to prevent nationalist tensions from exploding into armed conflict.

Some in Croatia believe Gudelj acted on behalf of hard-liners from the ruling party of then-President Franjo Tudjman, who opposed negotiations with Serb rebels.

Tudjman's government had denied any involvement in the killings.

Gudelj, 59, was extradited from Australia in July to stand trial again. At his first trial in 1994, he claimed that he acted alone at the state of madness after hearing rumors that his parents were slaughtered by Serbs. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but was pardoned in 1997 under a wide-ranging amnesty law.

He went to Australia, but Croatia's Constitutional Court ordered a retrial in 2001 and Croatia requested his extradition.

At the opening of the new trial, Gudelj repeated his story from 1994. His attorney, Nedjeljko Resetar, said he will not change his version, "because that's the truth."

But Reihl-Kir's widow, who also testified at the trial Tuesday, said the government at the time wanted her husband dead.

"He did not have their support because he was for a peaceful solution" between Serbs and Croats, she said. "His life was endangered because the authorities in Zagreb wanted war."

The war erupted in 1991 when minority Serbs took up arms to rebel against Croatia's independence from the former Yugoslavia. The on-and-off fighting only ended in 1995.