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War Crimes Tribunal Finds 5 Bosnian Serbs Guilty

The international war crimes tribunal in the Hague has found five Bosnian Serbs guilty of the murder and torture of Bosnian Croats and Muslims at the Omarska prison camp in 1992. Five men were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity and received prison sentences ranging from five to 25 years.

When reporters covering the Bosnian war gained access to the Omarska camp in August 1992, they were horrified by what they saw. Television pictures of the half-naked, starved inmates immediately conjured up images of the Nazi death camps of World War II, jolted the world's conscience, and sparked calls for international intervention.

On Friday, the United Nations war crimes tribunal found four camp officials guilty of what presiding judge Almiro Rodrigues called a "hellish orgy of persecution." They were given prison terms of from five to 20 years. But the stiffest sentence, 25 years, was handed out to Zoran Zigic, a taxi driver who frequently entered the facility and who Judge Rodrigues said enjoyed inflicting pain on the nearly 6,000 inmates who were held in Omarska and two other camps in northwestern Bosnia.

During the hearings leading up to Friday's verdict, prosecutors recounted how new arrivals were beaten almost daily and stuffed into hot rooms with no beds and meager sanitary facilities. They said women prisoners at Omarska were raped nightly by guards. Prosecutors had asked that the men be given sentences ranging from 25 years to life.

Tribunal spokesman Christian Chartier says the conditions at the three camps were one of the reasons that prompted the international community to set up a court to judge people accused of war crimes during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Mr. Chartier has said Friday's ruling is significant.

"It means that the tribunal, for the first time ever in its history, is judging, passing judgment, on the ideology behind the concentration-style camps set up by the Bosnian Serb forces. And they were a very important element of the policy of so-called ethnic cleansing. And this is a first legal assessment of this being inadmissible and to be qualified as a crime against humanity," he said.

The court on Friday found that Omarska and the other camps were part of a widespread system aimed at wiping out the non-Serb population in Prijedor, the nearest town to the camps. Hundreds of inmates in the camps were killed and tortured.

The defendants had all pleaded innocent to the charges, but, according to Mr. Chartier, they showed no emotional reaction at all when hearing their sentences.