Serb Convicted of Genocide in Hague Verdict

THE HAGUE (Reuters)–Former Bosnian Serb general Radislav Krstic was jailed on Thursday for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of thousands of Muslim men and boys–the first person convicted of genocide by the Hague war crimes court.

Krstic–53–was sentenced to 46 years in prison–the court’s harshest penalty yet–for the grisly mass executions of Muslims fleeing the UN "safe haven" in eastern Bosnia in Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two.

Almost 8,000 Muslims were slaughtered after Srebrenica fell in July 1995 to Serb forces–of which Krstic was a commander.

"In July 1995–General Krstic–you agreed to evil," presiding Judge Almiro Rodrigues told the defendant–who lost a leg in a mine explosion and was allowed to sit for the verdict.

"Knowing that the women–children and old people of Srebrenica had been transferred–you are guilty of having agreed to the plan to conduct mass executions of all the men of fighting age.

"You are therefore guilty of genocide–General Krstic."

Krstic–dressed in dark navy suit–white shirt and yellow and black tie–entered the courtroom on crutches. He was visibly tense and shifted uncomfortably in his chair during a ruling lasting more than 1-1/2 hours.

Krstic had denied eight counts – two of genocide–five of crimes against humanity and one of violations of the laws or customs of war. His lawyer said he would appeal.

Defense counsel had disputed that the intent existed to wipe out a population group–as the United Nations defines genocide.

It argued that Krstic committed no crime personally and could not be held responsible as a superior either.

Up to 15,000 Muslim men and boys tried to flee the Serb forces–but many were captured and killed. Many of the men who stayed were separated from women and children and bussed away to be shot. Others were decapitated on the spot.

"This sets an important legal precedent because it is the first time an international court has ruled that genocide was committed in Bosnia–and specifically in Srebrenica," tribunal spokesman Jim Landale told Reuters.

Defense lawyer Nenad Petrusic said Krstic had taken the verdict "very calmly."

Speaking in Serbian through an interpreter–Petrusic said Krstic had not been anticipating the verdict handed down by the three-judge panel. "We were expecting what we requested–and that was an acquittal," he said.

Krstic–who pleaded not guilty after being seized by NATO troops in December 1998–was one of the most senior military figures to appear before the tribunal. He was a direct subordinate of Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic.

Mladic and Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic are both accused of genocide for the Srebrenica slaughter. They are the court’s most wanted fugitives after the transfer of ousted Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague in June.

"Now it’s clear for everyone that it’s important that Karadzic and Mladic are handed over immediately," said UN prosecution spokeswoman Florence Hartmann.

During the 94-day Krstic trial–UN prosecutors detailed a long list of extermination–decapitations and torture after Srebrenica fell to Bosnian Serb forces on July 11–1995.

The trial began in March 2000 and heard 116 witnesses.

Judge Rodrigues spoke of a "killing spree" deliberately aimed at slaying all the Srebrenica men of fighting age.

"In all–seven to eight thousand men were captured and almost all were killed by the Serbian forces. Only a few survived–some of whom testified before the trial chamber of the horror of the mass executions–which they miraculously survived," he told the court. At the site of one massacre where men had been summarily executed–tribunal investigators found a cultural center had been turned into a charnel house–the judge said.

"When investigators forced open the doors of the cultural center they found bullet marks–traces of explosives–bits of human remains everywhere. High up on the walls–even on the stage of the theater," he said.

Prosecution chief investigator Jean-Rene Ruez–who inspected massacre sites between July 1995 and April 1996–told Reuters:

"It was not something you expect to see as part of your life in the second half of the 20th century."

Previously–the tribunal’s harshest sentence had been 45 years given to Bosnian Croat general Timohir Blaskic for charges including crimes against humanity.

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