Srebrenica survivors applaud Karadzic life sentence


Srebrenica (Bosnia and Herzegovina) (AFP)

Relatives of victims of the Srebrenica massacre applauded Wednesday's decision to hand a life sentence to Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic for genocide and war crimes during the 1990s.

A panel of appeals judges in The Hague increased Karadzic's original 40-year sentence for the atrocities during Bosnia's inter-ethnic war to life in prison.

He was also found guilty over his role in the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces.

It was the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II and deemed genocide by international justice.

The three-year war that ended in 1995 between Bosnia's Croats, Muslims and Serbs left 100,000 people dead.

"Thank God for this, since another verdict would have killed us," said Bida Osmanovic, whose 22-year-old son Faruk was killed in the massacre.

She was among about 50 Srebrenica mothers, sisters and widows as well as some male survivors of the atrocity, who watched the verdict at a memorial in Potocari, just outside the ill-fated town.

- 'My soul regained serenity' -

Nura Alispahic came from Sarajevo where she lives to join them.

"My soul regained serenity now ... my pain is a bit soothed," the 74-year-old woman told AFP.

Her husband and a 15-year-old son were killed in Srebrenica. Another son was also killed during the war.

The families gathered next to the cemetery and before listening to the verdict visited the graves where the remains of their loved ones are buried.

"We will visit our children," one woman said heading towards white tombstones.

Ahead of the verdict, the survivors said they were hoping for such an outcome.

"My hope and my only thought is that (Karadzic) is sentenced to life," Hajrija Oric, 63, told AFP.

Her 17-year-old son Elvir and husband Sahin were both killed in the massacre. Their remains were found years later and buried.

"All I found was a handful of bones and a head. I would give everything, I would give my eyes, if I could bring them back but it cannot happen."

- Serbs' denial -

Nedzad Avdic, a massacre survivor whose father was killed then, stressed the importance of the verdict as most ethnic Serbs, including their political leaders, still downplay the scale of the Srebrenica crime.

"This verdict comes very late, but for us this is a very important day due to a growing denial" that it was a genocide, he said.

It will "shut the mouth of all those ... denying what has happened here," Avdic, 40, said.

Oric agreed.

"No one can tell us that is not the truth," she said.

Many Serbs in Bosnia and Serbia proper see Karadzic as a hero who protected his people.

Bosnian Serb nationalist Milorad Dodik, who now chairs Bosnia's tripartite presidency, said on the eve of the verdict he was convinced that Karadzic never decided to attack civilians.

"I don't trust the legitimacy of this (Hague-based UN) tribunal.

"It did not fulfil its task which was to build with its verdicts the basis for reconciliation" in the former Yugoslavia, Dodik said.

Wednesday's ruling was one of the last remaining cases from the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and was handed down by the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals.

The body deals with cases left over from now-defunct courts for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Karadzic's wartime military chief Ratko Mladic, dubbed the "Butcher of Bosnia", is currently appealing a life sentence on similar charges.