Croatia angry at 'lenient' jail terms

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The Independent Online

Croatian leaders reacted angrily after the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague handed down what they saw as lenient sentences for a 1991 massacre near the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar.

The tribunal sentenced Mile Mrksic, 60, a colonel of the now disbanded Yugoslav People's Army, the JNA, to 20 years in jail for aiding and abetting the murder and torture of Croats, while Veselin Sljivancanin, 54, received a five-year prison sentence for failing to prevent the torture of detained Croats. Miroslav Radic, 35, a third accused officer, was acquitted of all charges. Sljivancanin, arrested in 2003, will be credited for his time in detention and will be released within a year.

The former JNA officers were known for years as the "Vukovar Three", for their alleged role in the massacre. But the court suggested the conduct of the Vukovar Serbs' territorial defence units and paramilitaries practically absolved the JNA command of any role in the torture or killings.

It named the victims as prisoners of war and not civilians, something Croatia has long insisted upon.

When Vukovar fell to Yugoslav forces after a three-month siege in 1991, 400 Croats found shelter in the hospital and hoped for evacuation. Instead, more than 200 men were transferred to a pig farm and executed during the night.

Croatia's Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader, said the sentences were "shameful". "They are the defeat of the very idea of The Hague war crimes tribunal," he added.