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The BBC's Jacky Rowland in Belgrade
"In many ways it's a propaganda gesture"
 real 28k

Thursday, 21 September, 2000, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
Belgrade sentences Nato leaders
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President Bill Clinton at Nato meeting
Messrs Blair and Clinton: Not present in Belgrade
A court in Belgrade has sentenced 14 Nato leaders to 20 years in prison each for war crimes allegedly committed during last year's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.

The presiding judge said an arrest warrant had been issued for the convicted leaders, who include US President Bill Clinton, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac.

People clapping in Belgrade court
There was applause from the public gallery
Sentenced in absentia, they have 15 days to appeal against the verdict.

The court had heard evidence on the Nato use of cluster bombs and was told that Nato warplanes had dropped 10 tonnes of ammunition containing depleted uranium on Kosovo.

The United Nations war crimes tribunal in the Hague has rejected Yugoslav accusations against Nato - but has indicted the Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, and four of his close aides, for alleged war crimes in Kosovo.

'Agressive war'

During the trial, which began on Monday, proceedings took place with 14 empty chairs, bearing the names of the accused.

Empty chair in Belgrade court with Bill Clinton's name on
Mr Clinton's empty seat
The absent leaders were charged and sentenced with "inciting an aggressive war, war crimes against the civilian population, use of banned combat means, attempted murder of the Yugoslav president, as well as with the violation of the country's territorial integrity".

There was applause from the public as Judge Veroljub Rakitic read out the verdicts.

"Our human criminal law has not anticipated higher sentences, because no-one could have anticipated that such crimes might be committed," he said.

He ordered the defendants to pay the costs of the trial within 15 days "under threat of forced execution".

Charges

Presiding Judge
The judge stood under a photo of President Milosevic
At the start of the trial the judge said the accused had all been sent a translated list of the charges through diplomatic channels.

It took three hours for Belgrade prosecutor Andrija Milutinovic to read the 183-page indictment against the leaders, followed by the names of 890 alleged victims of Nato bombings - 503 civilians, 240 soldiers and 147 Serb policemen.

But Mr Rakitic said in the verdict that the 14 were guilty for acts that "caused the death of 546 soldiers, 138 policemen and 504 civilians, among them 88 children."

No explanation was given for the difference in the figures in the indictment and the verdict.

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See also:

07 Jun 00 | Europe
Nato accused of war crimes
02 Jun 00 | Europe
Nato escapes war crimes probe
12 Mar 00 | Europe
Behind the Kosovo crisis
01 Jun 99 | Europe
Nato's bombing blunders
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