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Serbia jails police for massacre

Body bags containing remains of Kosovo Albanians buried in mass graves at Batajnica near Belgrade, Serbia, in 1999  (9 Aug 2005)
The victims' bodies were transported to Serbia and buried in mass graves

A war crimes court in Serbia has jailed four former policemen for killing 50 Kosovo Albanian civilians in 1999.

The incident took place during the war in Kosovo, when Serbian security forces fought against ethnic Albanians who wanted independence for their province.

All but two of the victims, including 16 children, were from the same family.

Radojko Repanovic and Sladjan Cukaric were sentenced to 20 years in prison. Miroslav Petkovic and Milorad Nisavic were sentenced to 15 and 13 years.

All four defendants had denied the charges. Three other men, including the commander of the special police unit responsible, were found not guilty and released. Prosecutors said they would appeal.

"We cannot be satisfied with the verdict," said prosecution spokesman Bruno Vekaric. "Justice has not been carried out."

Mass graves

The court in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, said on Thursday that the victims of the worst single massacre of civilians during the Kosovo war included a 100-year-old woman and a nine-month-old baby.

Map

Prosecutors said the Serbian police unit rounded up members of the family in the Kosovo town of Suva Reka, killing several men with machine-gun fire before forcing the rest into a restaurant and throwing hand grenades at them.

Those who survived the explosions were later shot in the head, they added.

The massacre took place on 26 March 1999, two days after Nato launched a 78-day bombing campaign to drive Serbian forces from the province.

The victims' bodies were among more than 800 transported to Serbia by the security forces and buried in mass graves - one on a police training ground outside Belgrade and the other in eastern Serbia.

Both sites were excavated in 2001, after former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic was ousted and arrested on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Milosevic died in 2006 while on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia in February 2008, something which Belgrade has refused to recognise.

The Kosovan government welcomed Thursday's verdict, but called on the Serbian authorities to pursue justice for the victims of the war's other atrocities.



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