THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- The trial of three Bosnian Serbs accused of running rape camps of Muslim women opened today with a prosecutor linking the organized sexual assault to a wartime Serb ''ethnic cleansing'' campaign.
The Foca trial marks the first time an international court will hear a case about camps set up to specifically rape women. It is part of an attempt by U.N. prosecutors to make wartime sexual assault one of the most grievous and punishable crimes under international law.
Radomir Kovac, Dragoljub Kunarac and Zoran Vukovic are accused of detaining Bosnian Muslim women in a local high school, a sports hall and other locations. The defendants are among soldiers and paramilitaries who prosecutors say sexually assaulted the women nightly.
The three men are charged with up to 50 counts of rape, torture, enslavement and outrages upon personal dignity in the Foca case, named after the southeastern Bosnian city where the crimes allegedly took place.
The defendants, former fighters on the Bosnian Serb side, have pleaded innocent to the war crimes and crimes against humanity charges, which carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. The court has no death penalty.
''This is a case about the women and girls, some as young as 12 or 15, who endured unimaginable horrors as their worlds around them collapsed,'' prosecutor Dirk Ryneveld said today in his opening statement to the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal.
The defendants sat motionless as Ryneveld outlined the history of the Serb takeover of Foca in the summer of 1992, with a video showing the city in flames. Kunarac, a former Bosnian Serb Army unit commander and the key defendant in the trial, took notes on a laptop computer.
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