THE HAGUE: A UN court sentenced two of the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic's spy chiefs to 15 years in jail on appeal Wednesday in the last major Hague war crimes trial from the 1990s Bosnian conflict.
Judges rejected appeals by former state security service boss Jovica Stanisic and his deputy Franko Simatovic against their 2021 convictions, and added three years to their original sentences of 12 years.
Stanisic, 72, and Simatovic, 73, were convicted of backing a Serb death squad that terrorised the Bosnian town of Bosanski Samac in 1992 with killings, rapes and looting.
The pair had challenged their convictions for the war crime of murder and the crimes against humanity of murder, persecution, forcible transfer and deportation, and appealed the sentence.
Prosecutors had appealed against their acquittal on several other charges, and asked for a longer sentence from the court, known as the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (MICT).
"The appeals chamber dismisses the appeals by (Jovica) Stanisic and (Franko) Simatovic... and imposes a sentence of 15 years" on each, head appeals judge Graciela Gatti Santana said.
The case has been running for two decades, making it the longest and the last at the UN tribunal dealing with crimes from the wars that tore apart Yugoslavia after the fall of communism.
The pair were arrested in 2003 and cleared at an initial trial in 2013, but the court ordered a retrial.
"This pronouncement marks a milestone in the mechanism's history... The appeals chamber pronounces the last appeal judgement", Gatti Santana said.
The MICT has taken over cases left over from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which closed in 2017 after bringing key suspects to justice over the Balkans wars.
'Campaign of terror'
Suspects including Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic and military chief Ratko Mladic have previously been convicted by the original international court, while Milosevic himself died in custody in The Hague in 2006.
But the case of Stanisic and Simatovic has dragged on far longer.
The two spymasters were acquitted a decade ago after a five-year trial, but the ICTY ordered a retrial in 2015 after a public outcry.
Judges in 2021 convicted the pair of helping train and deploy Serb forces during the takeover of Bosanski Samac in April 1992.
Serb forces launched a "campaign of terror" to drive out non-Serbs involving rapes, looting and the destruction of religious buildings in the town, judges said at the time.
They also held Bosnian Muslims and Croats in six detention centres where they were subjected to forced labour, repeated beatings, torture, and sometimes killings.
The appeals judges overturned a finding from the original trial that said there was not enough evidence to prove that Stanisic and Simatovic were part of a concerted plot led by Milosevic to drive out Croats and Bosnian Muslims and create a Serb homeland.
Lawyers for the defendants had said the 2021 judgment failed to show that the pair exerted any control over the Serb forces that brutalised Bosanski Samac.
The Balkans wars left about 130,000 people dead and millions displaced.
Tensions continue to simmer in the region, with clashes erupting on Monday in northern Kosovo between ethnic Serbs and NATO-led peacekeepers.