BELGRADE (Reuters) - Four Serbian paramilitary soldiers who videotaped their killing of six Bosnian Muslim youths in the last days of the 1992-95 Bosnia war were found guilty on Tuesday by Serbia’s war crimes court.
The men from the feared Scorpions unit taped the murders and circulated the trophy video among themselves. It was found by a Serb human rights activist and broadcast in Serbia in 2005, shocking a nation which until then had dismissed charges of Serb atrocities as hostile propaganda.
The film shows the men taunting the Bosnian Muslim youths before herding them into a clearing in the woods and shooting them in the back, while smoking and chatting casually.
Scorpions chief Slobodan Medic and his aide Branislav Medic were sentenced to 20 years in jail. Pero Petrasevic, the only defendant to plead guilty, got 13 years. A fourth man got a five-year sentence and a fifth was acquitted.
“By committing such acts against defenceless civilians, by showing off their power and showing no remorse, the defendants gave the court no option of milder sentences,” said judge Gordana Bozilovic-Petrovic.
But relatives of the victims, who came from Bosnia and were brought into court under heavy police escort, said they were outraged at the court’s leniency.
“This is an injustice,” said Nura Alispahic, mother of a 16-year-old victim. “They brought them there to kill children and now they freed one and gave another five years.”
Natasa Kandic, who made the tape public, said: “Considering the gravity of the crime, the ruling did not deliver justice.”
In the video, she said, the man sentenced to five years said to one teenage captive: “Have you ever fucked? Well, you never will.” The taunt was ample proof that he knew full well what was coming and was clearly an accomplice, she told reporters.
The killing took place on July 17, 1995 in Trnovo, southeast Bosnia, in the same week that Bosnian Serb troops killed 8,000 Muslim males 150 km (90 miles) away in the town of Srebrenica.
All six victims were from the Srebrenica area. But the court said there was no evidence to directly link the killings to Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two.
With the war still raging, Bosnia sued Serbia for genocide at the International Court of Justice in 1993, saying it was helping Bosnian Serb forces commit atrocities.
The U.N. court dismissed the claim this February, but said Serbia had failed to prevent genocide and punish perpetrators.
Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic and political leader Radovan Karadzic, both charged with genocide for Srebrenica by a U.N. tribunal in The Hague, are still on the run. The European Union froze talks with Serbia a year ago over its failure to arrest Mladic, who was hiding in Belgrade.
Serbia set up its own war crimes court in 2003 to show it was ready to deal with the past. Tuesday’s ruling was the latest in a small number of war crimes cases Serb courts have so far handled, involving atrocities in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.
“Everyone can now be assured that Serbia’s judicial bodies are ready and able to deal with such serious cases,” said chief war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic after the ruling.
But he also said he would appeal against the lower sentences as well as the acquittal.