Judgments in Vukovar and Kosovo camp cases Thursday

September 27, 2007

THE HAGUE (AFP) -- The UN war crimes court will hand down Thursday a first judgment against three Serbs charged over the 1991 Vukovar massacre and a final ruling in a case involving atrocities at a Kosovo Albanian prison camp.

In the Vukovar case Mile Mrksic, Miroslav Radic and Veselin Sljivancanin face charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes for allowing troops under their control to kill over 250 people who sought refuge in a hospital in the Croatian town of Vukovar at the start of the 1991-95 war.
The three former Serb officers have all pleaded not guilty. The prosecution has asked for a life sentence for all three men. Lawyers for Mrksic (60), Radic (45) and Sljivancanin (54) have asked for acquittal.
The Serb-dominated Yugoslav army and Serb rebels captured Vukovar in November 1991 after some of the heaviest fighting in the Croatian war.
The town was razed and more than 1,000 civilians were killed, including the people taken from the hospital On November 20, 1991 Yugoslav forces evacuated the hospital and forced some 400 Croats and other non-Serbs out.
According to the prosecution Radic and Sljivancanin personally participated in the in the selection of people that were put on the busses.
-------------264 evacuees executed
Soldiers then bussed 264 evacuees to the secluded Ovcara farm where they were executed and buried in mass graves. So far 192 exhumed bodies have been identified as belonging to the people from the hospital.
Mrksic, who was Radic's and Sljivancanin's commanding officer, addressed the court personally on the last trial day in May to stress his innocence.
""One thing I do know is that I did not give that order (to kill the refugees from the hospital). I didn't know that this would ever happen,"" he told the judges. His co-accused also used their last words in court to profess their innocence to the charges.
In a separate case the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) will also rule in an appeal case against two Kosovo Albanians cleared of war crimes charges in 2005 on September 27.
Prosecutors appealed the acquittal of former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commanders Fatmir Limaj and Isak Musliu who were cleared of charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for atrocities at a KLA prison camp in Lapushnik. They have always denied the existence of the camp.
During the appeal case prosecutors argued that the lower court made ""critical errors"" in the case when it decided that it could not be proven that Limaj had comprehensive command over the camp in central Kosovo in 1998.
They have asked the appeals chambers to overturn the earlier acquittal and convict Limaj and Musliu, both 36 years old, or failing that, send the case back to a lower court for a re-trial.
After the 1998-99 Kosovo conflict Limaj became the leader of the Kosovo Democratic Party (PDK).
A third accused in the case, Haradin Bala, 50, who was jailed for 13 years by ICTY for torture, cruel treatment and murder at the Lapushnik camp, joined the appeal to ask for his conviction to be overturned. The prosecution asked on his appeal for a harsher sentence for Bala.
The three men were the first Kosovo Albanians to be indicted for war crimes, in February 2003.
Three more ethnic Albanians have since been charged by the UN court, including former Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, who went on trial here in May of this year.
Kosovo is still being run by the UN and NATO since Serb troops were forced out of the province in June 1999 after a NATO bombing campaign.