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Leader of Croatian Serbs Sentenced to 35 Years Imprisonment

A former Croatian Serb rebel leader has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for the murder, torture and persecution of non-Serbs in Croatia, in the early 1990s. Milan Martic was a leader of the ethnic Serbs in the Krajina region of Croatia, as they set up their own republic during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. He was the first Krajina leader to stand trial at the Hague-based War Crimes Tribunal. Lauren Comiteau has been following the verdict and files this report from Amsterdam.

Milan Martic stood calmly and without emotion as Judge Bakone Moloto handed down his sentence.

"The trial chamber sentences you to a single sentence of 35 years of imprisonment," he said. "Pursuant to rule 101c of the rules, you are entitled to credit for time spent in detention, which as of the date of this judgment, amounts to 1,855 days."

Martic surrendered to the tribunal five years ago. However, judges gave that little weight when determining his sentence, saying he was on the run for seven years before turning himself in to authorities.

What judges say they did take into consideration was that Martic's crimes were committed mostly against elderly people - those in detention - and civilians and that virtually the entire non-Serb population was expelled from the area he controlled. Martic was also found guilty of ordering the 1995 rocket attacks on downtown Zagreb - the capital of Croatia - in which seven people were killed and more than 200 others wounded. Judges noted the "horrific injuries" and "serious suffering" to the city's residents, as a result of what they said were "indiscriminate attacks" that Martic admitting to ordering. Prosecutors say they are happy with the sentence, which is heavy by tribunal standards.

Throughout his 14-month trial, Martic maintained his innocence, saying he was protecting all the people of Serb Krajina, no matter where they came from. But prosecutors said - and now judges confirm - he was part of a joint criminal enterprise along with former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic.

Prosecutors say the leadership was planning to create a greater Serbia, which they are said to have attempted to do through a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign aimed at Croats and other non-Serbs who lived in the territories they wanted. Croatia gained back the Krajina, after a military offensive in 1995. The Croatian leaders of that offensive are now awaiting trial in The Hague.