December 12, 2012 / 5:14 PM / 5 years ago

Bosnian Serb wartime intelligence chief gets life jail term

Zdravko Tolimir, a former high-ranking Bosnian Serb army officer charged with crimes including genocide in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, holds a pen as he waits for the the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal to deliver its judgment in The Hague, December 12, 2012.Peter Dejong/ Pool

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal sentenced Bosnian Serb general Zdravko Tolimir to life in prison on Wednesday for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, Europe's worst atrocity since World War Two.

U.N. judges said Tolimir, 64, a former intelligence chief and close aide to Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, planned and oversaw the killing of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in days after the town of Srebenica was overrun.

The massacre was part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing carried out by nationalist Serbs determined to carve out a Serb state in Bosnia by removing all of the multi-ethnic province's Muslims and Croats. The 1992-95 war killed 100,000 people.

"The crimes were massive in scale, severe in intensity and devastating in effect," presiding judge Christoph Flugge said when reading the verdict at the Hague-based tribunal.

He said Tolimir had been close to Mladic and was referred by witnesses as his "right-hand man and eyes and ears."

A panel of judges found Tolimr responsible for, among other things, the killing of up to 1,500 Srebrenica Muslim men and boys in a warehouse in the village of Kravica, near Srebrenica. Bosnian Serbs with machineguns and rifle-propelled grenades fired on men in the warehouse, who could not escape.

"The harm inflicted upon these men rises to the level of serious bodily and mental harm and constitute acts of genocide," Flugge said.

Together with the top military command, including Mladic himself, Tolimir was a member of a joint criminal enterprise to remove Muslims from eastern Bosnia, a panel of judges said.

He was found guilty of genocide, conspiring to commit genocide, violations of the laws and customs of wars and crimes against humanity including murder, persecution and extermination of non-Muslims.

"This is (something) that can appease my soul after everything I survived in July 1995," said Sabaheta Fejzic, who lost her husband and son in the Srebrenica bloodletting.

"If there was a death penalty, Tolimir would deserve it. But since it does not exist, then he should rot in jail for the rest of his life," Fejzic said after she heard the verdict on television.

Tolimir was arrested in June 2007 on the border between Serbia and Bosnia's Serb Republic and is thought by security experts to have helped Mladic evade arrest until then.

Mladic, 70, was eventually captured in Serbia last year after 16 years on the run and is now standing trial in The Hague for the Srebrenica massacre and other alleged war crimes.

Reporting by Ivana Sekularac, additional reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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