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Suspected war criminal loses libel case

Former Serb paramilitary commander Dragan Vasiljković has lost a libel suit against The Australian, after the newspaper accused him of war crimes committed during the Balkans conflict between 1991 and 1994 in an article published in 2005.

During the trial, details emerged of the crimes Vasiljković is said to have committed, including rape, torture and his admittance to committing a massacre.

The editor-in-chief of The Australian and The Weekend Australian, Chris Mitchell, said at the commencement of the trial in 2009:

"The Australian was placed in the extraordinary position of having to defend a defamation action by effectively conducting a de facto international war crimes trial in a civil court in Sydney while the nation state of Croatia was attempting to extradite the plaintiff for alleged war crimes in that country.

"Losing a case like this would have made it all the more difficult for media organisations to take on these kinds of stories, which are manifestly in the public interest, but incredibly expensive to defend, especially when the plaintiff does not have to produce any evidence of their ability to pay the huge costs involved."

Vasiljković is currently awaiting extradition to Croatia where he is sought in connection with the allegations. His barrister Clive Evatt has said that his client will be appealing the decision to the High Court.

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