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Ben Brown reports for BBC News
"Some families were machine-gunned to death"
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The BBC's Colin Blane reports
"Persecution is one of the most vicious crimes against humanity"
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Friday, 14 January, 2000, 21:13 GMT
Croat soldiers guilty of war crimes

Ahmici Some relatives of the guilty men still live in Ahmici

The International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague has convicted five Bosnian Croat soldiers accused of taking part in one of the most notorious massacres of Muslims in the Bosnian war.

The five defendants were sentenced to between six and 25 years imprisonment for charges including murder, crimes against humanity and persecution.

Crimes and punishments
Vladimir Santic - 25 years for murder
Drago Josipovic - 15 years for murder
Zoran Kupreskic - 10 years for persecution
Mirjan Kupreskic - Eight years for persecution
Vlatko Kupreskic - Six years for persecution
Dragan Papic - Released, guilt unproven
Vladimir Santic and Drago Josipovic were found guilty of murder during the massacre, which took place in Ahmici in central Bosnia in 1993.

More than 100 civilians were killed, all of them Muslims, including more than 30 women and children.

Santic - commander of a local military police battalion and of a group known as the "Jokers" - passed on orders from his superiors to eradicate Muslims in the village.

Brothers Zoran and Mirjan Kupreskic and their cousin Vlatko Kupreskic were found guilty of persecution, and received sentences of up to 10 years.

A sixth man, Dragan Papic, was released because Judge Antonio Cassese said the evidence could not prove his guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt".

All the defendants had denied the charges against them.

Muslim anger

Muslims in Ahmici said they were unhappy with the sentences passed on the men.

Santic was a local police commander
"This is not enough and there is no reason for celebration," said Munir, 34, who returned to the village after the 1992-1995 Bosnian conflict.

A man in his 30s who said he had seen crimes committed by some of the men said: "They have to suffer for what they have done."

An adviser to Bosnian presidency member Alija Izetbegovic welcomed the court's ruling.

"With the sentences handed out today, Bosnia is at least one small step closer to justice," Mirza Hajric said in Sarajevo.

Croatian Justice Minister Zvonimir Separovic called the verdict unjust on Friday during a presidential campaign stop in the southern Bosnian village of Medjugorje, which is populated mainly by Bosnian Croats.

"Great injustices are arriving from The Hague. Today we have learned about the heavy sentence of a 25-year prison term given to (Vladimir) Santic," said Mr Separovic, who is an independent candidate in Croatia's January 24 vote.

'It's a start'

British Army Colonel Bob Stewart, who helped gather evidence from the scene for war crimes investigators, told BBC News Online: "I don't mind if the deterrent sent out by the sentences is only little.

"It's better than nothing and so I don't suspect many people will be deterred by these sentences but some might and that is good enough. It's a start."

A spokesman for the UK Ministry of Defence said: "It's clearly good news that they have been brought to justice and been given an appropriate sentence.

"Hopefully this will be the first of many other major war crimes convictions."

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See also:
14 Jan 00 |  Europe
Profiles of the accused
14 Jan 00 |  Europe
Flashback: The Ahmici massacre
14 Jan 00 |  Europe
Ahmici sentences 'are just a start'
14 Jan 00 |  Europe
Analysis: Big fish still at large
13 Jan 00 |  Europe
UN slams Bosnian leadership
02 Aug 99 |  Europe
Nato grabs war crimes suspect
04 Jan 00 |  Europe
Croatia votes for change

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