A U.N. tribunal convicted and sentenced two former Bosnian Serb army commanders to lengthy prison terms Monday for their roles in the 1995 slaughter of thousands of Bosnian Muslims from Srebrenica, Europe’s worst massacre since World War II.
Col. Vidoje Blagojevic, 54, received an 18-year term for complicity in genocide and other war crimes. He was the wartime commander of the Bratunac brigade that took part in the killing of more than 7,000 Muslims near the eastern Bosnia city of Srebrenica.
Dragan Jokic, 47, a major in the Zvornik brigade who assumed command during a week of killing at the end of the 1992-1995 war, got a nine-year sentence. He was convicted of murder, extermination and persecution on racial grounds.
Prosecutors had sought 15-20 years in prison for Jokic and 32 years for Blagojevic.
Both men were acquitted of allegations of command responsibility. The court said the men had merely passed on orders, rather than given them.
Some analysts criticized the sentences as relatively light when compared with the 17-year and 27-year sentences handed down to two lower-ranking officers who pleaded guilty and testified against Blagojevic and Jokic, their former superiors.
Massacres at war’s end
The Srebrenica massacres occurred in July 1995 at the end of the Bosnian war after the eastern Bosnian enclave, which had been under U.N. protection, fell to Serb forces. Some 30,000 women, children and elderly people were packed into buses and deported. The men were separated and executed, their bodies dumped in mass graves.
On Monday, presiding judge Liu Daqun of China said Blagojevic and Jokic were not “major participants in the commission of the crimes.” Rather, they provided logistical support by supplying heavy machinery to dig graves and security for the convoys of detainees, he said.
“It has not been established that (Blagojevic) had knowledge of the executions when he rendered the assistance,” the ruling said.
Also on trial for the Srebrenica massacre, and 65 other counts of war crimes, is former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. His trial resumed Tuesday after a three-week recess.
The two most wanted suspects in the Srebrenica indictment, former Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic, remain at large.
In Belgrade, a retrial started Monday of four Serbs convicted last year of the 1992 massacre of 16 Muslims from southwestern Serbia, the private Beta news agency reported.
War crimes trials in Serbia became possible only after the 2000 toppling and handing over of the autocratic Milosevic to the U.N. war crimes court.