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Last Updated:  Monday, 24 March, 2003, 13:40 GMT
Croat general guilty of executions
A former Croatian army general who was widely seen as a hero for his role in the independence war has been jailed for war crimes.

General Mirko Norac was sentenced to 12 years for killing about 50 Serb civilians in 1991.

They were dragged from their homes and workplaces and summarily executed in fields outside the town of Gospic.

General Mirko Norac
Norac's arrest sparked mass protests
Judge Ika Saric said the general and three other defendants had organised and carried out the executions.

The 35-year-old general is the most senior army officer yet put on trial in Croatia.

His arrest sparked mass public protests involving tens of thousands of people.

His supporters also gathered outside the court for the verdict, noisily denouncing Croatia's government for allowing the case to come to trial.

Some 150 witnesses gave evidence during the trial, which lasted two years.

All defendants pleaded not guilty and said they had not heard of or taken part in the executions.

Prosecutors said the general had ordered the rounding up and execution, and had shot one woman himself.

Protesters at earlier demonstration in support of Norac
Many Croatians see Norac as a war hero
Another defendant, Tihomir Oreskovic, was jailed for 15 years and a third man, Stjepan Grandic, got 10 years.

A fourth man, Ivica Rozic, was aquitted.

The case is one of the first war crimes trials to come to trial in Croatia, and has been seen as a test of the country's willingness to deal with the issue.

The UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague allowed Croatia to go ahead with the trial, despite having considered him as one of its own suspects.

Judge Saric said the crimes in Gospic had remained hidden for so long because of a conspiracy of silence. She described a reign of terror in the town.

The defendants insisted they played no role in the killings and claimed they were merely defending Gospic from Serb assaults.


SEE ALSO:
Hero or war crimes suspect?
22 Feb 01 |  Europe
Croatians rally to war crimes suspect
11 Feb 01 |  Media reports


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