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UN Tribunal Acquits Milutinovic of War Crimes, Jails 5 Others

By Lisa Bryant
27 February 2009

The United Nations war crimes court for the former Yugoslavia has acquitted a former Serbian president of atrocities committed in Kosovo but jailed five others on Thursday. It was the court's first ruling on Serbian crimes committed during the Kosovo war a decade ago.

The Hague-based tribunal acquitted Serbian ex-president Milan Milutinovic of war crimes during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war and ordered him released from custody. The court said he had no role in driving ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo. But the judged handed down sentences from 15 to 22 years to five others, including the former defense minister and army commanders of the ex-Yugoslavia.

The 66-year-old Milutinovic had been accused of involvement in the deportation of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, along with murder and persecution.

Thousands of ethnic Albanians were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced during the Serb crackdown.

The Serbian forces were driven out in 1999 by a NATO air assault. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia last year.

Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu said he had full trust in the court's verdict. But reactions in Belgrade were mixed. Natasa Kandic, executive director of the Humanitarian Law Centre, a Serbian rights group, hailed the fact that justice had been done.

Kandic said some of the highest representatives of state had been convicted and their prison terms were what she described as "long and relevant" compared to similar cases in Serbia.

But others, like this one Belgrade resident, were less complementary.

The resident said the prison sentences were handed to men and honorable soldiers who were defending Serbia from NATO attacks at the time - and that the verdict amounted to a punishment for all of Serbia.

All six men involved in the trial had been close allies of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, who had also faced trial under the war crimes court. He died three years ago, before the trial ended.

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