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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 July, 2003, 20:27 GMT 21:27 UK
Stakic: Ethnic cleansing overseer
Milomir Stakic at The Hague tribunal
Stakic: Central to ethnic cleansing campaign
Milomir Stakic is the first accused at The Hague war crimes tribunal to be given a life sentence.

The 41-year-old doctor received the heaviest sentence handed out so far, mainly for his role in setting up detention camps where non-Serbs were killed and tortured during the Bosnian war of the early 1990s.

Judges said that as the top official in the area and mayor of Prijedor at the time, Stakic had presided over a decision to set up the Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje camps which soon became synonymous with ethnic cleansing.

The horror of the camps became etched in collective memory as images were shown of half-starved, semi-naked prisoners staring out from behind barbed wire - scenes not seen in Europe since World War II.

The camps were the most notorious of 39 detention facilities set up in 1992 as rebel Bosnian Serbs, opposed to Bosnia's independence from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia, took power in north-western Bosnia.

More than 1,500 people were killed and 20,000 deported during a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

"Stakic organised and supported the municipal government structures that led a campaign of persecution directed against the non-Serb population," The Hague tribunal's indictment says.

It adds that as the so-called head of the Bosnian Serb wartime crisis staff that ran the area, Stakic had the "final voice and authority in deciding issues within the municipality" during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.

Stakic was a prominent member of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) led by Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, who is one of the tribunal's most wanted men, charged with genocide.

Milomir Stakic was the first man to be handed over to the war crimes tribunal by the Yugoslav authorities, in March 2001.

The tribunal described Stakic as a key part of Mr Karadzic's plan to establish a separate Serbian state in Bosnia.

The Prijedor region was evenly divided between Serbs and Muslims before the Bosnian war, but by 1993 Serbs accounted for about 90% of the population.

The vital corridor thus created connected Serb-dominated areas of Karin to the west with Yugoslavia.

The BBC's Geraldine Coughlan
"This is an important precedent for the court... the first time it has passed a life sentence"

Jim Landale, war crimes tribunal spokesman
"This is a landmark judgement"

Omarska: A vision of hell
02 Nov 01  |  Europe
What is a war crime?
31 Jul 03  |  Europe

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