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SLUG: 2-314641 Bosnia War Crimes
TITLE= BOSNIA / WAR CRIMES
BYLINE= LAUREN COMITEAU
DATELINE= THE HAGUE
INTRO: War crimes judges have sentenced a Bosnian-Serb former policeman to 17 years in prison for the murder of approximately 200 non-Serb prisoners of war in 1992. His was the second sentence handed down in a week when U-S lawmakers are looking to see how well Serbia is cooperating with the court before releasing much needed aid to that county. Lauren Comiteau reports from The Hague.
TEXT: Darko Mrdja looked nervous as the court described the day in August 1992 when Mrdja committed the crimes he confessed to. More than 200 non-Serb prisoners were told they would be part of a prisoner exchange. Instead, they were driven by bus to a cliff, forced to kneel at its edge, and were shot to death.
Judge Alphons Orie reminded the court that Mrdja personally participated in selecting which men would be killed and that he himself unloaded, guarded, shot, and killed them.
Judge Orie called the incident a large-scale massacre.
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We conclude that the sentence should reflect all of the cruelty and inhumanity embodied in Darko Mrdja's direct participation in the shooting of more than 200 civilians, of which all but 12 were killed.
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Mrdja plead guilty last year to two counts - murder and inhumane acts. His 17-year sentence was within the range prosecutors and defense lawyers agreed on in their plea bargain. Still, Mrdja shut his eyes and covered his face after his sentence was read out.
The court said it gave him credit for cooperating with prosecutors, admitting his guilt, and expressing remorse, but it did not accept as a mitigating factor that Mrdja was just following orders. Judges said the orders were so "manifestly unlawful" that he must have known they violated the most fundamental laws of war and the basic dictates of humanity.
The court also found that the victims of the crimes suffered more than is usual in murder cases and held that against him. Mrdja's is the second sentence handed down by the war crimes tribunal this week to a confessed murderer.
On Tuesday, the court sentenced Bosnian-Serb Miroslav Deronjic - a wartime politician - to 10 years for ordering a 1992 attack on the Bosnian village of Glogova that left more than 60 Muslims dead. In a sign of the growing concern by some judges with the continuing use of plea bargains, the presiding judge in that case said he would have doubled Deronjic's sentence if he could.
While the work of the tribunal has speeded up, its officials complain Serbia is not fully cooperating and continues to demonstrate hostile attitude towards the court.
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Secretary of State Colin Powell is to announce Wednesday whether Serbia is cooperating with the war crimes Tribunal to receive an aid package worth more than one-million dollars.
Earlier this week, Serbia's parliament enacted a controversial law to provide Serbian war crimes suspects - including former president Slobodan Milosevic - with financial aid. (SIGNED)
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