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Two Former Yugoslav Army Officers Sentenced for War Crimes

Judges at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal have convicted two former Yugoslav army officers for their role in the 1991 murders of non-Serbs in the Croatian city of Vukovar. They acquitted a third former officer of the massacres. For VOA, Lauren Comiteau has more from Amsterdam.

The three former Yugoslav army officers were charged for their roles in one of the worst atrocities of the war when hundreds of Croatians and non-Serbs were taken away from Vukovar's hospital, tortured, shot at close range, and then buried in a mass grave.

The judges found there was no conspiracy as prosecutors alleged between Mile Mrksic, Miroslav Radic, and Veselin Slijvancanin to commit the murders.

They also lowered the number of victims to only the 194 who have been positively identified from the mass grave on the site, and not the 264 prosecutors alleged.

Judges then ruled that because the victims were thought to be prisoners of war and not civilians, the crimes cannot be considered crimes against humanity but only war crimes.

The tribunal ruled it was local Serb forces and paramillitaries who committed the murders. The three accused, they said, had no control over them, only over the Yugoslav police who were too few in number and too ineffective to prevent the murders.

Presiding Judge Kevin Parker read out the verdict for Mrksic.

"By ordering the JNA military police to withdraw from Ovcara when he knew of the high risk to the prisoners of war of serious violence and death at the hands of territorial defense and paramilitary forces, Mile Mrksic aided and abetted the murders that were committed as a consequence of his order for withdrawal," he said..

Mrksic was given the stiffest sentence of 20 years.

Slijvancinin, they say, failed to prevent the torture of the prisoners, and he was sentenced to five years for aiding and abetting. The judges ruled Radic had no reason to know of the murders and set him free.

The verdict is a huge blow to prosecutors, who had asked for life sentences for the so-called Vukovar 3.

The tribunal also upheld an appeal of three Kosovo Albanians. The acquittal of two former KLA commanders - Fatmir Limaj and Isak Musliu - was also upheld. And, the 13-year sentence given to a KLA commander and camp guard, Haradin Bala, for murder, torture, and cruelty against Serbs or their perceived Albanian supporters was also upheld.