A court has sentenced a group of former Yugoslav Army soldiers to prison for war crimes against civilians in the early 1990s. Serbia hopes the verdict will heal lost-lasting wounds with its Balkan neighbors.
The Serbian war crimes court in Belgrade sentenced 14 former Serbian soldiers on Tuesday to prison for killing 70 Croatian civilians in 1991. The AP news agency reported that the prison terms ranged from four to 20 years.
“Today, the Serbian judiciary sent a clear message of respect and apology to the victims, for everything that happened in the region during these unfortunate years,” Serbia's deputy war crimes prosecutor, Bruno Vekaric, told reporters after the verdict.
Massacre 'one of the worst,' says deputy prosecutor
The former Yugoslav Army soldiers entered the eastern Croatian village of Lovas in October 1991, where they murdered civilians in their homes. Reports detailed how they forced 22 of the villagers into a mine field to set off bombs.
Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. The largely Serbian Yugoslav Army helped Croatian Serbs expel ethnic Croats from the eastern part of the country.
Many war crimes trials, starting as early as 1993, tied to the Balkan Wars between 1992 and 1995 have taken place at international tribunals in The Hague. Roughly 160 war criminals have been indicted in total. Serb authorities have started taking a more active role in pursuing and prosecuting alleged war criminals on home soil, with the move thought to be tied to Belgrade's ongoing bid for European Union membership.
The European Union granted Serbia EU candidacy status in March. The country, formerly a part of Yugoslavia, must take steps toward reconciliation with its neighbors to become a member. In response to these requirements, Serbia has made greater efforts to bring alleged war criminals to court.
kms/msh (AP, Reuters)