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Page last updated at 17:14 GMT, Tuesday, 5 May 2009 18:14 UK

Hague triples Vukovar jail term

Veselin Sljivancanin (left) and Mile Mrksic at The Hague, 5 May
Veselin Sljivancanin (left) had returned to The Hague for the verdict on his and Mile Mrksic's (right) appeals

A UN war crimes appeals court has ruled that a former Yugoslav army officer jailed for crimes at Vukovar in 1991 should serve 17, not five years.

It found Veselin Sljivancanin's original conviction for torture inadequate and jailed him for aiding and abetting the murder of prisoners.

Sljivancanin, 56, was freed in December 2007 after four years in custody.

He had returned to The Hague for the ruling which also upheld a sentence against his superior, Mile Mrksic.

A judge reads out the preamble to the verdict at The Hague on 5 May
The only reasonable inference is that Mr Sljivancanin was aware that the TOs [Territorial Defence] and paramilitaries would likely kill the prisoners-of-war and that if he failed to act, his omission would assist in the murder of the prisoners
Judge Theodor Meron

Mrksic, 62, is serving 20 years for aiding and abetting the murder and torture of prisoners, as well as allowing inhumane conditions of detention.

The two men were convicted in September 2007 for their role in the execution of 194 non-Serbs seeking refuge at a Vukovar hospital in 1991.

Charges included murder, torture and cruel treatment. Victims were taken to a nearby farm building, where they were killed and buried in a mass grave.

The original verdicts were met with huge criticism in Croatia where the sentences were seen as too lenient for what was the gravest crime committed on Croatian soil since World War II, the BBC's Geraldine Coughlan reports from The Hague.

Croatia also disputed the acquittal of a third defendant, Miroslav Radic.

'Shock and tears'

Prosecutors had appealed for heavier sentences against both convicted men, who had also appealed against their convictions.

The appeals chamber dismissed all the appeals lodged by the defendants while, of the four prosecution appeals, it allowed one, granted two in part and dismissed one.

It found that the Hague trial chamber had erred when it acquitted Sljivancanin of aiding and abetting the murders and convicted him only of aiding and abetting torture.

Sljivancanin's wife, Persa, exclaimed with shock in the public gallery as the new sentence was handed down, an AFP news agency correspondent reports.

As she protested against the ruling, she was escorted out by a dozen policemen with her children in tears.

'Failure to act'

The original trial heard that the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) had besieged Vukovar from August to November 1991, during which time some 1,000 of the city's residents were killed and another 5,000 taken prisoner.

Yugoslav troops beside a column of refugees in Vukovar, 1991
Vukovar was attacked by Yugoslav troops and Serb militiamen in 1991

In the last days of the siege, several hundred people sought refuge at the city's hospital, hoping to be evacuated in the presence of international observers.

But on 20 November 1991, JNA soldiers stopped guarding the prisoners, allowing Serb Territorial Defence (TO) and paramilitary forces to load about 400 on to buses and take them to a farm in nearby Ovcara where at least 194 were beaten and later killed.

After the killings, the bodies of the victims were buried by bulldozer in a mass grave at the same location.

Mrksic was found guilty of aiding and abetting the murders as he had ordered the withdrawal of the JNA soldiers guarding the prisoners. He was also found to have failed to act effectively to ensure that the prisoners were properly protected or treated, the trial chamber found.

"Upon learning of the order to withdraw the JNA troops from Mr Mrksic… the only reasonable inference is that Mr Sljivancanin was aware that the TOs and paramilitaries would likely kill the prisoners-of-war and that if he failed to act, his omission would assist in the murder of the prisoners," Presiding Judge Theodor Meron said in court on Tuesday.

Since its establishment, the Hague Tribunal says it has charged 161 persons with serious violations of humanitarian law committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 2001. Proceedings against 119 have been concluded.



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SEE ALSO
Croatian anger at Vukovar verdict
28 Sep 07 |  Europe
Two jailed over Croatia massacre
27 Sep 07 |  Europe
Profile: The 'Vukovar Three'
09 Mar 04 |  Europe

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