Friday, April 13, 2007

4 Serbs Convicted In Srebrenica Deaths

Taken from Yahoo News, Apr 10, 2007

By MISHA SAVIC, Associated Press

BELGRADE, Serbia - Four members of a notorious Serb paramilitary unit who were videotaped gunning down Bosnians near Srebrenica were convicted of war crimes on Tuesday, two years after the footage forced Serbia to admit its role in the 1995 slaughter of nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys.

It was the first ruling by a Serbian court related to the systematic killings in the final months of the 1992-95 war in Bosnia — Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.

Trials of Serbs in Serbia have only become possible since the 2000 ouster of President Slobodan Milosevic, and the Srebrenica case has been a key test of the ability of Serbia's judiciary to deal with wartime atrocities.

"The only appropriate punishment for such a crime is the longest one," said Serbia's pro-Western president, Boris Tadic. "Until we explain to the people what really happened, we will not be able to close that chapter."

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, a former U.N. envoy to the Balkans, welcomed the verdict, saying "it shows that the countries in the formerly war ravaged region are now themselves starting to feel a responsibility for the crimes that were committed — often in their names — in the repeated wars of the 1990s."

But, the families of the victims and their representatives in Serbia expressed dissatisfaction with the sentences, saying they were not harsh enough.

"They killed children and one of them was released and another one sentenced to five years," said Safeta Muhic, sister of one of the victims. "I am not satisfied and I never will be."

The four Serbs found guilty Tuesday were seen in a video that surfaced in June 2005 when it was shown at the war crimes trial of Milosevic before the U.N. tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

The video shows members of a notorious Serbia paramilitary unit known as the Scorpions.

Apparently filmed by a Scorpion who believed the footage would never become public, it shows men in camouflage uniforms wearing red berets emblazoned with the Serbian flag taking the six prisoners — some still in their teens — from a truck, hands tied behind their backs. The troops shouted "Yalla, yalla" — or "Go, go" in Arabic — mocking the victims' Muslim religion.

Four were then shot one by one in the back. They slumped into the tall grass, and the two others were ordered to carry the bodies into a barn where they, too, were killed. At times, the paramilitary troops cursed and sneered at the prisoners.

The unit's commander, Slobodan Medic, and a fellow paramilitary were each sentenced to 20 years in prison — the maximum sentence possible — while the only defendant who admitted to shooting the victims, Pero Petrasevic, was sentenced to 13 years in prison. Another Scorpions member, accused as an accomplice, was sentenced to five years in jail, while a fifth was cleared.

The verdict followed a February decision by the U.N.'s highest court, the Netherlands-based International Court of Justice, clearing Serbia of direct responsibility for the Srebrenica genocide.

In Belgrade, presiding judge Gordana Bozilovic-Petrovic, who read the verdict, said the recording presented evidence that proved the guilt "beyond any doubt" and that Medic, "as the commander, had the authority to issue such an order."

The accused did not face the death penalty, which is not allowed under Serbian law.

The last known Scorpion mission was in Serbia's province of Kosovo in 1999 during NATO bombing that stopped Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

No comments: