Serb court jails 13, acquits five of war crimes

Thirteen Serbs were convicted of war crimes and sentenced to prison on Thursday for the execution-style killings of some 200 Croats — one of the worst massacres of prisoners of war (POWs) during the bloody Balkan conflicts of the 1990s.

Serbia’s war crimes court judges handed the maximum 20-year sentence to seven of the former soldiers.

The case was seen as a test of the Serbian judiciary’s ability to punish Serbs responsible for atrocities committed during the wars under former president Slobodan Milosevic.

The shooting took place in November 1991 at a pig farm near the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar during Croatia’s war for independence.

The Croatian POWs were separated into groups of seven to eight and sprayed with machine-gun fire before their bodies were dumped into a mass grave, the verdict said. Those showing signs of life were shot in the head with pistols.

“The defendants are guilty because they killed, tortured and inhumanely treated the war prisoners,” chief judge Vesko Krstajic said while reading out the verdict.

Six of the Serb defendants were given prison sentences ranging from five to 15 years.

The prosecutors said they were satisfied with the verdict.

“The seven maximum sentences should represent some satisfaction for the victims’ families,” prosecution spokesman Bruno Vekaric said.

Five of the 18 defendants originally indicted have been acquitted. Prosecutors said they would appeal the acquittals.

Some of the victims’ family members were not satisfied with the verdict because of the acquittals.

“This verdict won’t get me back my son,” said Marica Skulic, whose 26-year-old son was killed in the massacre. “My only hope is that it will help that such crimes never happen again.”

Croatia’s 1991 declaration of independence from the former Yugoslavia triggered a rebellion by its ethnic Serbs, who with Belgrade’s backing captured a third of the republic’s territory. The rebellion was crushed in 1995 and Croatia recaptured the territory.

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