A court yesterday convicted Slobodan Milosevic's militia commander and six of his henchmen of attempting to kill the current Serbian foreign minister and of murdering four of his associates.
Milorad Lukovic, head of the elite paramilitary unit set up by Milosevic during the wars in Bosnia and Croatia in the 1990s, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for organizing the October 1999 attack on Vuk Draskovic - a prominent opposition figure at the time and now Serbia's foreign minister.
Milosevic's secret service chief, Rade Markovic, was sentenced to eight years in prison. Five other members of Lukovic's paramilitary group, known as the Red Berets, were each sentenced to between 14 and 15 years in jail.
Prosecutors had asked for 40 years imprisonment for each of the five main suspects - the maximum sentence under Serbian law.
Relatives of the victims said Friday's sentences were too lenient.
Draskovic himself urged Justice Minister Zoran Stojkovic to replace the presiding judge, Bojan Misic, accusing him of wartime participation in the volunteer units once led by Lukovic. Draskovic said in a statement that the punishment for Lukovic should have been 40 years in prison.
"I am still alive and I will never accept this verdict," Draskovic said later Friday, adding he will take the matter to the European courts.
Draskovic, his brother-in-law and three bodyguards were on a highway when their car collided with an armored truck - a crash the court ruled was staged by Milosevic's associates at a time when the autocratic president was slipping from power.
Draskovic survived, but the four others were killed.
Their families railed against the sentences.
"The state is obviously protecting the murderers," said Draskovic's wife, Danica, whose brother was killed in the crash.
She issued a veiled threat, saying "justice now is in the hands of the victims' families."
Serbia has sought to dismantle Milosevic's legacy of terror against political opponents by putting prominent Milosevic-era officials on trial.
Lukovic, known by his nom-de-guerre Legija, was sentenced previously to 40 years in prison in a separate trial for his part in the May 2000 killing of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic - also one of Milosevic's political foes.
He and Markovic had been convicted and sentenced to prison for trying to kill Draskovic twice before, but retrials were ordered both times.
Also sentenced Friday was Mihalj Kertes, Milosevic's customs chief and close aide, who was sentenced to 2 1/2 years for providing the armored truck used in the crash.
Lukovic and several accused Red Berets are also standing trial on charges that they killed Serbia's first democratic prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, in March 2003.
Milosevic was ousted in a popular revolt in October 2000. He was later sent to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, to face charges stemming from his role in the wars during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Milosevic died in his prison cell last year before his trial was completed.
Draskovic was targeted in another attack in 2000 at his villa in the coastal Montenegrin town of Budva. He was only slightly injured in that assassination attempt, also pinned on Milosevic's allies.