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Monday, October 4, 1999 Published at 15:29 GMT 16:29 UK

World: Europe

Death camp chief gets 20 years

Dinko Sakic says his extradition was politically motivated

A court in Croatia has found the last known living commander of a World War II concentration camp guilty of war crimes and jailed him for a maximum 20 years.

The BBC's Jon Silverman: "He intends to appeal against his 20 year sentence"
The presiding judge on Monday said Dinko Sakic had personally shot prisoners at the Jasenovac camp and ordered the hanging of at least 20 men.

In his final plea last week, Sakic, 78, described himself as a Croatian patriot defending his homeland.

But the judge said the evidence against the former camp commander had clearly proved that he had killed, tortured and inflicted inhuman treatment on inmates between 1942 and1944.

A decision by the Croatian court brings to an end what is expected to be one of the last war crimes trials from World War II.

More than 40 witnesses gave evidence at the trial.

'International pressure'

The notorious camp, which has been described by Jewish groups as the Auschwitz of the Balkans.

[ image:  ]
It was established and run by the regime installed in Croatia after the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia. It is said to be one of the worst of more than 20 concentration camps in the country.

Sakic was extradited from Argentina last year, where he had lived for more than 50 years after fleeing Europe.

Last week, Sakic closed his defence at the trial in the capital Zagreb, saying it was politically motivated. He said Croatia had come under international pressure to acknowledge its fascist wartime past.

Jasenovac deaths

The BBC's John Silverman in Zagreb says the trial has caused great controversy in Croatia and it is widely believed the government applied for Mr Sakic's extradition from Argentina only as a result of international pressure.

A spokesman for the Jewish organisation B'nai B'rith International, which played a leading role in the case, said Croatia needed the trial in order to be liberated from its past.

Experts estimate that up to 85,000 Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and anti-fascist Croatia died at Jasenovac.

Mr Sakic's defence lawyers asked for the former commandant to be acquitted, claiming the prosecution failed to prove his guilt. They claimed the defendant had merely obeyed his superiors' orders.

But at least four witnesses testified to having seen Sakic emptying his gun into the head of a former inmate, physician Milo Boskovic.

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