UN court increases Serb officer's sentence for Vukovar massacre

A UN court has added murder to the convictions of a former Serb officer for the 1991 massacre of hundreds at a Croatian hospital, increasing his sentence to 17 years. Veselin Sljivancanin had already served most of the initial five-year sentence.


AFP - A UN court on Tuesday added murder to the convictions of a Serb officer for the 1991 massacre of people seeking refuge at a Croatian hospital, and increased his sentence more than three-fold to 17 years.

"The appeals chamber ... imposes by majority a sentence of 17 years," judge Theodor Meron ruled in a failed appeal by Veselin Sljivancanin, who had been convicted at trial of torture and sentenced to five years' imprisonment.

Sljivancanin, 56, was a major in the former Yugoslav People's Army (JNA).

He stood accused with former JNA colonel Mile Mrksic, 62, of torturing and executing nearly 200 Croat prisoners of war.

In September 2007, Mrksic was jailed for 20 years for murder, torture and cruel treatment -- a sentence that was upheld Tuesday as the ICTY dismissed his appeal.

Sljivancanin, who had already served most of the initial sentence imposed on him, stood stone-faced as the judges Tuesday added a charge of aiding and abetting murder to his conviction, and sent him back to jail.

He had sought an acquittal on appeal, while the prosecution had sought heavier sentences for both men.

Sljivancanin's wife, Persa, exclaimed in shock in the public gallery as the new sentence was handed down, and continued her tirade in the court's lobby until being escorted out by a dozen policemen with her children in tears.

The prosecution alleged that the JNA laid siege to the city of Vukovar from August to November 1991, when it fell to Serb forces.

Several hundred people sought refuge at the Vukovar Hospital in the last days of the siege in the hopes that it would be evacuated in the presence of international observers.

But the indictment says some 400 non-Serbs were removed by the JNA from the hospital, loaded onto buses and taken to JNA 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 from Vukovar Hospital," states a court document.

"After the killings, the bodies of the victims were buried by bulldozer in a mass grave at the same location."

In December 2007, after four years in custody, Sljivancanin was released and allowed to await the appeal outcome in Serbia. He has been ordered to return for Tuesday's ruling.

The original verdicts in the case provoked outrage in Croatia, where Prime Minister Ivo Sanader protested to the United Nations, arguing that the sentences were too light.

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