Published — Thursday 30 May 2013
Last update 31 May 2013 8:17 pm
THE HAGUE: The United Nations war crimes tribunal sentenced six Bosnian Croat wartime leaders to lengthy prison sentences yesterday for the murder, rape and expulsion of Muslims from Bosnia during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
The top defendant, Jadranko Prlic, was sentenced to 25 years in jail. He had been prime minister of the self-proclaimed Herceg-Bosna state that Croats carved out in central and southern Bosnia during the 1992-95 ethnic conflict.
The five others, including the interior minister and two chiefs of staff, received prison terms of 10 to 20 years.
Judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) also said Croatia, which on July 1 will become the second ex-Yugoslav republic to join the European Union, had been involved in the plan to purge the Croat-held territory of Muslims and Serbs.
They said late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman had believed ethnic cleansing was necessary to create a pure state that could be joined up to Croatia.
Reading from a summary of a judgment that ran to more than 2,600 pages, presiding judge Jean-Claude Antonetti said murders, rapes and deportations had been committed by Herceg-Bosna’s armed forces.
“The crimes were not the random acts of a few unruly soldiers,” he said. “They were the result of a plan ... to permanently remove the Muslim population of Herceg-Bosna.” The six were also held responsible for the destruction of the Ottoman-era Old Bridge at Mostar, whose shelling became a symbol of the ravages of the 1992-1995 Bosnian conflict.
Judges said the bridge, which has since been rebuilt with international aid, including from Croatia, Turkey and the EU, was a legitimate military target. But they said its destruction had caused disproportionate harm to civilians.
At Ahmici, a central Bosnian hamlet that was the site of one of the most notorious massacres in the conflict, Muslim survivors said the sentences were too light.
“This sentence cannot satisfy the victims or the survivors. It comes just as a small relief because it has now been publicly said who is the guilty party,” said Huso Ahmic.