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Former Serbian President Acquitted of Kosovo War Crimes

UN judges convicted five officials of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's regime for their role in persecuting Kosovo Albanians. But his successor Milan Milutinovic has walked out of the courtroom a free man.

ICTY courtroom photograph of Milan Milutinovic

Milutinovic was acquitted of war crimes

The United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague has convicted five former high-ranking Yugoslav and Serbian political, military and police officials for crimes against humanity committed in Kosovo in 1999. All of the men were given sentences of between 15 and 22 years

But Milan Milutinovic, the former President of Serbia, was acquitted of all charges, according to a ICTY press release. Milutinovic was elected in 1997, succeeding Slobodan Milosevic.

The Chamber said the prosecution had not proven that Milutinovic had actual control over Yugoslav Army (VJ) and Interior Ministry police forces (MUP) forces in Kosovo.

"In practice, it was Milosevic, sometimes termed the 'Supreme Commander,' who exercised actual command authority over the VJ during the NATO campaign," said ICTY's presiding judge Iain Bonomy on Thursday, Feb. 26.

Milosevic died in a cell of the ICTY tribunal in March 2006, where he was being tried for war crimes.

Long prison terms

Yugoslav troops rest next to their tanks in this 1999 photo

The court did find that war crimes were committed in Kosovo

Former Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, VJ General Nebojsa Pavkovic and Serbian police general Sreten Lukic were each sentenced to 22 years of imprisonment for crimes against humanity and violation of the laws or customs of war.

VJ General Vladimir Lazarevic and Chief of the General Staff Dragoljub Ojdanic were found guilty of aiding and abetting the deportation and forcible transfer of the ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo. They were each sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment.

The prosecution had charged the six defendants with crimes committed during a campaign of terror and violence directed against the ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo in early 1999. Its aim was to amend the ethnic structure in Kosovo to ensure continued control by Serbian authorities.

"The plan was to be executed by criminal means, including deportations, murders, forcible transfers and persecutions of Kosovo Albanians," the court said in a statement.

Violence against Kosovo Albanians

ICTY coutroom

The court convicted five other high-ranking Serb officials

The court said that there had been a broad campaign of violence directed against the Kosovo Albanian civilian population during the course of NATO airstrikes in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) that began on March 24, 1999. This campaign was conducted by army and MUP forces under the control of FRY and Serbian authorities.

They were "responsible for mass expulsions of Kosovo Albanian civilians from their homes, as well as incidents of killing, sexual assault, and the intentional destruction of mosques," the court said.

"It was the deliberate actions of these forces during this campaign that caused the departure of at least 700,000 Kosovo Albanians from Kosovo in the short period of time between the end of March and beginning of June 1999," Bonomy said.

The judgment is the first handed down by the Tribunal for crimes committed by FRY and Serbian forces against Kosovo Albanians during the 1999 conflict in Kosovo.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February of 2008. The declaration has been recognized by the United States and many European countries, but not by Serbia.

Serbs unhappy with decision

A picture of the deceased former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic

Milosevic died before his war crimes trial came to an end

Serbia's Socialist Party said it is unhappy with the convictions.

"In the softest possible terms, this is an unjust verdict," said Djordje Milicevic, the spokesman of the party which forms a key part of Serbia's ruling coalition government.

"Those who defended their country and their people against aggression were convicted," Milicevic was quoted as telling Beta news agency.

Milicevic made no comment about the acquittal, but said he expected the convictions to be overturned on appeal.

sac/th (dpa/ap/reuters/afp)

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