By Stephanie van den Berg
THE HAGUE (Reuters) – U.N. judges on Wednesday convicted two men of war crimes for their role in financing and equipping Serb militias in Bosnia during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, in the final case before the court dating from the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
The former head of Serbia’s state security service, Jovica Stanisic, and his subordinate Franko “Frenki” Simatovic were both handed 12-year sentences, according to a summary of the judgment read out in court.
“The trial chamber is satisfied that the accused provided practical assistance which had a substantial effect on the commission of the crimes of murder, forcible displacement and persecution committed in Bosanski Samac,” it said.
The judgment marks the first time Serbian state officials have been convicted for crimes committed on the ground in neighbouring Bosnia.
“As senior officials in the state security service of the republic of Serbia, Stanisic and Simatovic contributed to the commission of crimes by paramilitary forces and other armed groups in furtherance of ethnic cleansing campaigns against non-Serbs,” prosecutor Serge Brammertz said in a statement.
Stanisic, 70, and Simatovic, 71, had pleaded ‘not guilty’. Stanisic’s lawyer told journalists he would appeal, saying the evidence linking his client to the Bosanski Samac atrocities was weak.
The men entered court custody in 2003 and were acquitted in an initial trial in 2013. But appeals judges ordered a retrial in 2015.
Stanisic has already served around five years in jail while Simatovic was in custody for eight years and with credit for time served is expected to be out soon.
Prosecutors had argued the men were a direct link between former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his government in Belgrade, Serbia, and crimes committed in Bosnia and Croatia as part of an “ethnic cleansing” campaign against non-Serbs that left thousands dead and drove 340,000 from their homes.
They had asked for life sentences.
“These two men were critical in making sure the war was fought the way it was fought,” said Iva Vukusic, a historian at Utrecht University specialising in former Yugoslav paramilitary units.
Milosevic died in his cell in 2006 while on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity.
On Wednesday, the judges found that a joint criminal enterprise existed to drive out non-Serbs from Bosnia and Croatia that included “senior political military and police leadership in Serbia”. However, they argued it was not proven that Stanisic and Simatovic were part of that criminal enterprise.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Giles Elgood and Alex Richardson)