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Croatia PM expresses regrets to war criminals' victims

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Sarajevo (AFP)

Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said Tuesday that his country accepted the conviction by UN judges of six Bosnian Croats for 1990s war crimes, expressing his "regrets" to their victims.

Plenkovic had initially slammed the "deep moral injustice" of the court's verdict for the six men, whose jail sentences were upheld on appeal by judges in The Hague last week.

One of the convicted, Slobodan Praljak, then took his own life, swallowing potassium cyanide live on television in the courtroom of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

But at a press conference in Bosnia on Tuesday, Plenkovic said he wanted "to express regrets and condolences very clearly for all the victims of the crimes mentioned in this verdict".

He also included the victims of "all the other crimes committed on Bosnian territory, including those against Croats".

Plenkovic arrived on Monday in Mostar, a city in southern Bosnia where Muslims and Croats have lived in sharply segregated neighbourhoods since the 1992-1995 civil war.

Although the two ethnic groups initially fought together against Serbs, they turned on each other in 1993 and Mostar was extensively damaged in the fighting.

The judges confirmed that Praljak and his five co-defendants were part of a "joint criminal enterprise" to ethnically cleanse Bosnian Muslims in the war.

Their convictions were upheld for war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, persecution and inhumane treatment.

But since Praljak's death, Croats have paid multiple tributes to the late general they consider a hero, laying flowers and lighting candles in town squares in Croatia, an EU member-state, and Bosnia.

"Croatia is a member of the UN, one of the countries that proposed the creation of the ICTY, and there is no dilemma as to whether the verdict is accepted or not," Plenkovic said.

"The position is very clear: the verdict is respected."

Significantly, the judges upheld the original trial's finding that the "ultimate purpose" of the joint criminal enterprise in Bosnia was shared by late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, who is seen as the "father" of his country.

Plenkovic regretted that Zagreb was not allowed the chance to "explain certain legal aspects" on this matter before the court after its first verdict.

On this point "we are not satisfied", the prime minister said.

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