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Children burn homeless man to death in Serbia

A homeless man has died after a 12-year-old boy set fire to a mattress he was sleeping on in a north Serbian city. The perpetrator and two other children at the scene were too young to be prosecuted, police said.

The police interrogated and released two 12-year-olds and a 13-year-old over the incident, Serbian media reported on Wednesday.

During the night, the three children approached a pair of homeless people on the streets of Novi Sad, some 70 kilometres (40 miles) north of Belgrade. According to unofficial police sources cited by daily newspaper Blic, the minors were attempting to steal a nearby wheelchair when they were noticed by the two men.

The men were most likely under the influence of alcohol, the source said.

The youngest among the children then took a bundle of newspapers and set it alight, throwing it on the outdoor mattress one of the men was sleeping on. The fire spread quickly and caused severe injuries to the 64-year-old, who later died in the hospital. His companion also sustained burns.

No explanation for burning

While interrogated by the police, the boys allegedly said they "didn't know" why they set the man on fire.

"We didn't mean for anyone to die," the 12-year-old who burned the newspaper said, according to Serbian Vecernje Novosti. "As soon as we saw the flames, we got scared and ran away."

The trio is unlikely to face trial as persons younger than 14 years of age cannot be criminally prosecuted under Serbian law. One of the boys is a resident of a nearby children's home, according to sources cited by Blic.

dj/msh (Beta, AFP)