THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The U.N. war crimes tribunal sentenced former Bosnian Serb general Dragomir Milosevic to 33 years imprisonment on Wednesday for the shelling of Sarajevo during the Bosnian war, one of the court’s toughest sentences.
More than 10,000 people were killed in the Muslim-held part of Sarajevo in fighting and sniper attacks during the conflict. Thousands more struggled daily to survive in conditions one witness compared to the siege of Leningrad during World War Two.
“The evidence discloses an horrific tale of the encirclement and entrapment of a city,” said Judge Patrick Robinson, before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia handed one of its harshest sentences since being set up in 1993.
“There was no safe place in Sarajevo, one could be killed or injured anywhere and anytime.”
Judges found Milosevic, no relation to former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder and inhumane acts by troops of his Sarajevo Romanija Corps (SRK) unit of the Bosnian Serb Army.
Milosevic, who surrendered to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in December 2004, had pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors had sought a life sentence.
Sarajevo’s plight became synonymous with the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. The world saw television images of sniper and shell fire raining down on the city’s mainly Muslim population from the steep surrounding hills.
Milosevic, 65, became commander of the SRK in August 1994, taking over from Stanislav Galic, a former Bosnian Serb general already serving life imprisonment for his role in the siege.
Milosevic’s SRK troops used skilled snipers as well as mortars and modified air bombs, highly inaccurate weapons, to deliberately target the city’s civilians, the judge said.
Milosevic himself introduced the modified air bombs and decided on the placement of launchers. Each time a modified air bomb was launched the accused was playing with the lives of the citizens of Sarajevo, the judge said.
One witness, a mother, described how when her daughters returned from collecting water or firewood she would often find they had soiled their clothes because they were so scared.
Other witnesses described feeling like “sitting ducks” or “clay pigeons” as they traveled by tram along a major road of Sarajevo nicknamed “sniper alley”.
During Milosevic’s 15-month command, hundreds of civilians were killed and thousands maimed, prosecutors said. In one example they named a mother who was hit by a sniper’s bullet which passed through her stomach and hit her seven-year-old son in the head, killing him on the spot.
In another infamous attack, a mortar shell hit people queuing for bread by the city market in August 1995, killing dozens and wounding almost 80.
Mirsad Tokaca, the director of Sarajevo’s Investigation-Documentation Centre welcomed the sentence:
“I think it can provide partial satisfaction to the citizens of Sarajevo, if there can be any satisfaction for the victims.”
(additional reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic and Reuters TV)
Editing by Ibon Villelabetia