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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 April 2007, 21:58 GMT 22:58 UK
Verdict helps Serbs confront past
As a court in Serbia sentences four paramilitaries filmed killing Bosnian Muslims during the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, the BBC's Nick Hawton in Belgrade assesses the verdicts' wider impact:

Relatives of Srebrenica victims leave Belgrade courtroom
Relatives of men killed at Srebrenica witnessed the sentencing

In the courtroom corridor, the men with the scorpion tattoos and short hair waited to hear the verdicts for their five friends, former members of the Scorpion paramilitaries.

A few metres, away female relatives of the victims huddled together, drinking coffee, waiting to be ushered into the high-tech, high security courtroom.

Not a word was uttered between the two.

Behind the bullet proof glass in the courtroom, the accused smiled and waved at their relatives. They shared jokes and conversation with their police guards.

And then came the verdicts: two of them, including the Scorpion commander, sentenced to the maximum 20 years.

Another got 13 years because he confessed and expressed regret. Another got five years and the fifth man was acquitted.

Outside the court, the relatives of the victims cried and expressed anger at the lesser sentences. But this was a significant moment in Serbia's recent history.

It was not the first war crimes trial to take place in Serbia but it was the first related to the highly sensitive issue of Srebrenica where 8,000 Muslim men and boys were massacred by Serb forces in July 1995.

Facing reality

In a sense, it is the impact outside the courtroom rather than inside the courtroom that has mattered.

The graphic video at the centre of the trial, showing the cold blooded murders of six Muslim men and boys, the youngest just 16 years old, is the first video evidence showing the killings related to Srebrenica.

Bodies at Srebrenica
Video footage of the execution of Muslim prisoners caused a stir

In a country where there has been a great deal of denial about what happened at Srebrenica this video has had a powerful effect.

When it first came out two years ago, it sent shock waves around the region.

These were not just statistics and allegations and propaganda.

These were real people. Perpetrators and victims now had faces. People could identify with the pain of others.

Coupled with this, the Serbian media repeated the video, showing the gruesome killings and aftermath, in broadcast after broadcast - something other international media refused to do.

Serbs have been faced with the reality of what was done by some in their name during the Bosnian War. In the long run, that may help in the difficult process of reconciliation.

Fugitives

Just a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable for such a trial to take place in Serbia. Perhaps it is a sign of how much the country has moved on that this can now happen.

But the conclusion of this trial does not mark the end of the issue of Srebrenica and responsibility for what happened.

The two leading suspects for the massacre remain at large. The former Bosnian Serb leaders, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, who are both accused of genocide by the UN War Crimes Tribunal, have been on the run for the best part of a decade.

Serbia, or security structures within Serbia, have been accused of harbouring them, or at least having information which could lead to their arrest.

So far that has not happened and the Serbian authorities deny having such knowledge.

But one things seems certain. Until these two individuals have been apprehended true reconciliation is unlikely to take place.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The video that was used as evidence



SEE ALSO
Jail for Serb video death squad
10 Apr 07 |  Europe
Court clears Serbia of genocide
26 Feb 07 |  Europe

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