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UN Jails Yugoslav Army Chief for War Crimes

  • Stefan Bos

Flanked by UN security guards, Momcilo Perisic, the former chief of staff of the Yugoslav army, right, enters the court room of the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, to hear the verdict of the court, September 6, 2011.

Flanked by UN security guards, Momcilo Perisic, the former chief of staff of the Yugoslav army, right, enters the court room of the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, to hear the verdict of the court, September 6, 2011.

The Netherlands-based United Nations war crimes tribunal has sentenced the former chief of the Yugoslav army, Momcilo Perisic, to 27 years in prison for war crimes during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. The crimes included providing crucial military aid to Serb forces during Europe's worst massacre since World War II, and the shelling and sniping of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.

The 67-year-old General Momcilo Perisic appeared unmoved when he was told by the U.N. tribunal in The Hague that he would probably spend the rest of his life behind bars for war crimes in the Balkans.

Trial observers said the 27-year prison sentence finally confirmed the Yugoslav army's far-reaching support for Serb rebels in both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia.

Perisic held accountable

Earlier attempts to establish a link between disintegrating Yugoslavia and Serb forces opposing the independence of republics were inconclusive and ended when former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic died in his prison cell in 2006.

The court found Perisic guilty of several crimes, including the 42-month-long siege of Sarajevo, which included snipers shooting at innocent civilians and relentless shelling by forces under his command.

Breaking down the charges

Presiding Judge Bakone Moloto explained the charges.

“The trial chamber finds by majority that you are guilty as an aider and abetter under article seven one of the statute of the following counts. Count one - murder as a crime against humanity, in relation to Sarajevo... murder as a violation of the laws or customs of war in relation to Sarajevo... inhumane acts, injuring and wounding civilians as a crime against humanity in relation to Sarajevo... attacks on civilians as a violation of the laws or customs of war in relation to Sarajevo,” said Moloto.

Judges also found Perisic guilty of providing military aid to Bosnian Serb forces, who killed some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.

The 1995 massacre was Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.

Acquitted of direct responsibility

Yet Moloto said Perisic was acquitted of charges that he was directly responsible for the mass killings as a superior officer to leaders of the Bosnian Serb forces.

“The trial chamber finds that you are not guilty as a superior for failing to prevent crimes by subordinates or punish the perpetrators,” said Moloto.

Others on trial for the Srebrenica massacre include former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic.

Further findings, disagreement

The court also found that Perisic oversaw logistical assistance to Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia, which included a "vast quantity of infantry and artillery ammunition, fuel, spare parts, training and technical assistance."

Outside Bosnia, the court said Perisic commanded forces responsible for shelling the Croatian capital, Zagreb, in 1995.

However, in a statement, Serbia's defense minister, Dragan Sutanovac, condemned the sentence, saying it was "too grave" and would "open old wounds" at a time when former Yugoslav republics are "trying to work on reconciliation."

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