UN court sentences Srebrenica commander to life

The UN's Yugoslav war crimes court found Bosnian Serb general Zdravko Tolimir guilty of genocide Wednesday for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, Europe's worst atrocity since World War II, and sentenced him to life in jail.

Former high-ranking Bosnian Serb general Zdravko Tolimir crosses himself as he waits for the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal to deliver its judgement in The Hague on December 12, 2012. Tolimir was found guilty of genocide for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, and jailed for life.

"The majority of the court finds you guilty" of crimes including genocide, Judge Christoph Flugge said at the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

"Zdravko Tolimir, you are hereby sentenced to life imprisonment," the judge then told the gaunt former commander Wednesday, who crossed himself three times before the verdict was handed down.

Munira Subasic, president of the Mothers of Srebrenica victims' association, told AFP the judgement was "good for the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina".

"We look towards the future, where we can live together with love, not hatred," she said, speaking through an interpreter.

The verdict was also hailed in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, where it was broadcast live on national television.

Fahira Fejzic, whose husband and 17-year-old son were killed in the massacre, said Tolimir's sentencing was difficult for her as "I have to live through July 1995 again."

"But I feel a bit less pain, my soul is a bit calmer," she said.

Two out of three judges on the bench agreed with prosecutors, who had asked for a life sentence. The judges said Tolimir, now 64, was involved in "massive" crimes committed at the Srebrenica and Zepa enclaves in July 1995.

They said they were "of a massive scale, severe in (their) intensity and devastating in (their) effect.

"The suffering of the women, children and elderly who were forcibly transferred from the Srebrenica and Zepa enclaves rises to the level of serious bodily or mental harm so as also to amount to genocide," the judges added.

Judges said Tolimir -- described as the "right-hand man and eyes and ears of (Bosnian Serb army commander) Ratko Mladic", who is also being tried by the court -- had overseen Bosnian Serb army officers conducting the slaughter of at least 6,000 Muslim men and boys.

Judges highlighted a number of incidents during the massacres including at a warehouse a few kilometres from Srebrenica, where about 1,000 Muslim men and boys were taken after being captured by the Bosnian Serb army.

When the warehouse was full, Serb soldiers opened fire with machine guns and tossed hand grenades. "They fired for hours," only now and then pausing for a break, the judge said.

In another instance, a six-year-old Muslim boy survived an execution and then stood up to ask Bosnian Serb soldiers "where his father was".

Conducting his own defence, Tolimir said that what happened in the eastern Bosnian town in July 1995 amounted to "fighting against terrorist groups", rather than the murder of Muslim men and boys, after Dutch peacekeepers at the "safe" enclave were overrun by Mladic's forces.

Tolimir, said Judge Flugge, "had full knowledge of the despicable criminal operations and himself furthered their goals" in the brutal episode in the Balkans country's bloody 1992-1995 war, which claimed 100,000 lives and left 2.2 million people homeless.

Apart from genocide, Tolimir was found guilty on six other counts including extermination, murder, persecution and forcible transfer.

Judges said prosecutors did not prove a count of deportation beyond reasonable doubt in relation to the attacks on Srebrenica and Zepa.

During Tolimir's trial, prosecutors said the former intelligence chief was part of a grand scheme to murder thousands of Muslim men and boys and expel thousands of woman and children from the enclave in order to create a "mono-ethnic Serb state".

The prosecution also alleged that about 25,000 women, children and elderly people were forcibly transferred from the enclaves to Muslim-controlled territories, while thousands of men and boys old enough to bear arms were executed and dumped in mass graves.

Tolimir was involved in a "joint criminal enterprise" to "summarily execute and bury thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys aged 16 to 60 captured from the Srebrenica enclave," according to the charge sheet.

During the trial, prosecutors said Mladic relied on Tolimir to "carry out the slow strangling of the Srebrenica and Zepa enclaves" to create conditions which would force the Muslim population "to give up hope of survival".

Tolimir is the most senior Serb to have a verdict handed down by the UN war crimes court since two Croatian generals and two former Kosovar guerrillas were acquitted last month, sparking Serbia's ire.

Arrested in May 2007 in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Tolimir had seen his trial delayed several times due to ill health.

Mladic, dubbed "the Butcher of Bosnia", was arrested in Serbia last year, and now faces 11 counts before the same Hague-based court, including for the Srebrenica massacre.

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Writer: AFP
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