Serbian general opens appeal with Libya warning for Britain and France

THE HAGUE Tue Oct 30, 2012 11:55am EDT

Momcilo Perisic, the former chief of staff of the Yugoslav army, takes his seat as he enters the court room of the Yugoslavia war crimes court in The Hague, to hear the verdict of the court Sept 6, 2011. REUTERS/Peter Dejong/Pool

Momcilo Perisic, the former chief of staff of the Yugoslav army, takes his seat as he enters the court room of the Yugoslavia war crimes court in The Hague, to hear the verdict of the court Sept 6, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Peter Dejong/Pool

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THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The former head of the Serbian army, who was convicted last year for war crimes during the Balkans wars of the 1990s, told an appeal court on Tuesday he could not be held responsible for the actions of an army that was not under his direct control.

General Momcilo Perisic is appealing against his conviction for murder, persecution and attacks on civilians in Bosnia and Croatia, including the killing of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica and the 42-month siege of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serb forces.

Perisic, 68, was sentenced to 27 years in prison in September 2011 for helping the Serb troops to plan and carry out the war crimes.

"Never before was a chief of staff indicted and convicted for crimes committed by members of another army in another country," Perisic told the court.

"My case remains unique in the world," said Perisic, who was also convicted of securing financial and logistical support for Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia.

Prosecutors said Perisic was directly responsible for atrocities committed by the fighters in Bosnia and Croatia and that he had made conscious attempts to conceal his role.

"What the chamber did was to remove this veil of deception and show Perisic's position of authority and effective control," said Elena Martin Salgado, for the prosecution.

A lawyer for Perisic said that holding him responsible for the actions of the Bosnian Serb army risked creating a double standard.

Britain and France had intervened in Libya last year with "impunity" in support of rebel forces they did not control in order to topple dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

"Do we think it's going to be prosecutions around the world for the United States and its personnel? Or for the U.K. or for France? Or for NATO?" asked Gregory Guy Smith, one of Perisic's lawyers.

"I think not, and the problem that's going to occur very rapidly will be that there will be a rise in impunity, because there will be a recognition that there is not equal treatment under the law," he told the court.

Perisic is the only senior Belgrade official convicted of atrocities in Bosnia and Croatia during the wars that followed the break-up of multi-ethnic Yugoslavia, in which more than 100,000 people were killed.

Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian president, died in detention before the end of his trial. Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, and Ratko Mladic, the leader of the Bosnian Serb forces, are still on trial.

(Reporting By Thomas Escritt; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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