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Last Updated: Friday, 5 December, 2003, 13:16 GMT
Justice for Sarajevo

By Gabriel Partos
BBC South-east Europe analyst

The first war crimes trial centring on the siege of Sarajevo has ended with a Bosnian Serb general being sentenced to 20 years in jail.

For two years, General Stanislav Galic commanded the Bosnian Serb forces that besieged the Bosnian capital during the 44-month war.

Graves in Sarajevo
Over 11,000 people were killed in 3,5 years in Sarajevo
It is one of the best-documented events of the Bosnian war.

While elsewhere in Bosnia, away from the public view, hundreds or sometimes thousands were massacred and buried in well-concealed mass graves, in Sarajevo much of the killing took place in the form of daily shelling and sniping.

As a result, the remains of most of the victims were recovered, and the names of the more than 11,000 people who were killed have been recorded.

Similarly, with much of the killing done in broad daylight and in front of cameras, there is little doubt that the Bosnian Serb side, which besieged much of the city from the surrounding hills, was responsible for the overwhelming majority of the killings.

UN safe haven

The Bosnian Serb forces' policy was to throttle the Bosnian capital, which would have meant the defeat of the Muslim-led Bosnian Government side.

It was, at least on paper, a United Nations-designated safe area.

The mainly-Muslim defendants fought back - at times reportedly targeting their own side in the hope of prompting Nato air strikes against the Bosnian Serbs.

It was an attack on Sarajevo that finally prompted a Nato air campaign in 1995 which helped bring the Bosnian Serbs to the Dayton negotiating table.

In September 1992, General Stanislav Galic was appointed commander of the Bosnian Serb army's Romanija corps, the units that besieged Sarajevo, and held that post for two years.

General Stanislav Galic sits in the international law court prior to hearing his verdict
Galic was accused of ordering his snipers to target civilians
According to the prosecution, he ordered snipers to target civilians and his artillery to shell public buildings of no military significance.

Among the dead during the entire siege there were 1,500 children.

Given the gravity of the crimes, the prosecution had asked for the harshest possible penalty - a life sentence which has so far been imposed on only one other defendant.

General Galic pleaded not guilty, and his defence argued that the accused had not planned or ordered the deliberate targeting of civilians.

But the tribunal found him guilty and sentenced him to 20 years for acts of violence whose primary purpose, in the words of the judgement, was "to spread terror among the civilian population".

However, in a dissenting opinion, one of the three judges, Rafael Nieto-Navia, argued that it could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt that General Galic had actually ordered deliberate attacks on civilians.

For that reason, he suggested that the general should not have been found guilty individually; though, by virtue of his position, he bore command responsibility for the actions of his subordinates - in other words, for failing either to prevent such killings or to punish the perpetrators.

His recommendation, over-ridden by the other two judges, was a sentence of 10 years.

Appeal likely

Given the difference in the opinion of the judges, the Galic case will almost certainly go to the tribunal's Appeal Chamber.

In the meantime, the tribunal will continue to call for all necessary measures to be taken for the arrest of the person the prosecution believes was in charge of the Sarajevo siege - General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serbs' wartime commander.

General Mladic remains a fugitive from justice somewhere in Bosnia or Serbia, along with other senior officials who have been indicted over the Sarajevo siege.

For now, General Galic is the only commander to have been tried over one of the bloodiest episodes in the Bosnian war.

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Country profile: Bosnia-Hercegovina
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