Serbs sentenced to death for war crimes: Soldiers convicted of raping and murdering Muslim women

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The Independent Online
TWO Bosnian Serb soldiers were sentenced to death yesterday for murder, rape and robbery in the first war crimes trial of the Bosnian conflict. A military tribunal in Sarajevo, operating under the auspices of Bosnia's Muslim-led government, imposed the sentences on Borislav Herak, 22, and Sretko Damjanovic, 31.

Herak, who admitted raping 16 Muslim women and killing 11 of them, told the court: 'I deserve the death penalty. I would just like to see my father one more time and to have some cigarettes.'

But Damjanovic, who was charged with four murders and two rapes, insisted on his innocence. He accused the Muslim authorities of torturing him to make him confess. A medical expert testified during the trial that Damjanovic had been mistreated.

'I just want to thank the court for this,' Damjanovic said bitterly, after hearing his sentence. 'I have not been fairly judged. I am not guilty.'

The trial represented the Bosnian government's first attempt to prove in court that Serbian forces had committed genocide in the war, now almost one year old. According to the prosecutors, Herak and Damjanovic were agents of a systematic Serbian campaign to kill Muslims or expel them from their native areas.

Herak gave much self-incriminating testimony during the trial, demonstrating how he had slit the throats of prisoners of war and recounting how his superiors had ordered him to commit murder and rape. He said that he and his fellow soldiers had engaged on several occasions in gang rapes before driving the women to forests and shooting them.

However, the prosecutors provided little evidence beyond the confessions of the two defendants. Only a few witnesses were called to testify against the accused, and they were Muslims said to have escaped from Serbian- held territory.

Defence lawyers also questioned whether Herak's confessions were credible. They pointed out that the bodies of his alleged victims had not been discovered, and suggested that their client was mentally unbalanced. The Muslim authorities responded that detailed supporting evidence was difficult to find because the areas where the alleged crimes occurred are still in Serbian hands.

Herak and Damjanovic were arrested last November after accidentally coming across a Bosnian army checkpoint. A third defendant, Nada Tomic, was sentenced to three years in prison for harbouring goods stolen from Muslim homes.

General Philippe Morillon, the commander of United Nations forces in Bosnia, said the cases should be turned over to an international war crimes tribunal.

'In this country every side will have to vote an amnesty and send those criminals to the international court. It is the only way to calm the anguish and mutual recrimination. Every side has to prepare the facts to be given and let this court prosecute the criminals,' the general said.

(Photograph omitted)