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UN court extends sentence of Serbian war criminal

Appeals judges more than tripled the jail sentence of a former Serbian army officer. Veselin Sljivancanin now faces 17 years for allegedly failing to protect 194 Croatian prisoners of war, who were murdered.

File photo of Yugoslav army soldiers and Serbian volunteers escorting a Croat civilian after entering Vukovar

Civilians found themselves caught in the fighting in Vukovar

A lower United Nations Yugoslav tribunal convicted Veselin Sljivancanin in 2007 of enabling the beatings and torture of Croatian prisoners of war. But Sljivancanin was acquitted of aiding and abetting murder and given a five-year sentence.

Sljivancanin, who had already served most of the initial sentence imposed on him, did not visibly react as appeals judges added a charge of aiding and abetting murder to his conviction, and sent him back to jail.

The judges increased his sentence to 17 years, ruling that the 56- year-old Sljivancanin could have prevented the murders.

Sljivancanin had sought an acquittal on appeal, while the prosecution had sought heavier sentences for both Sljivancanin and his superior officer, Mile Mrksic, 62. Appeals judges did not alter Mrksic's 20-year sentence on Tuesday.

Croatia had protested light sentence

Veselin Sljivancanin, left, stands in a courtroom with Mile Mrksic, right

Veselin Sljivancanin, left, had appealed his conviction

The prosecution alleged the Yugoslav People's Army rounded up several hundred people who had sought refuge at the Vukovar hospital at the start of the war in 1991. The non-Serbs were loaded onto buses and taken to army barracks and later to a farm in nearby Ovcara where they were beaten.

"Soldiers then transported their non-Serb captives in groups of about 10 to 20 to a ravine ... where they killed at least 264 Croats and other non-Serbs," states a court document. "After the killings, the bodies of the victims were buried by bulldozer in a mass grave at the same location."

The leniency of the initial sentences had angered many in Croatia, where the Vukovar massacre was viewed as one of the most brutal episodes of the Balkan wars.

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