June 12, 2009 / 2:06 PM / in 9 years

Bosnian Serb jailed for 25 years for town massacre

By Daria Sito-Sucic

SARAJEVO, June 12 (Reuters) - The Bosnian war crimes court jailed a Bosnian Serb wartime commander for 25 years on Friday for ordering a mortar attack in 1995on a northern town that killed 71 people and wounded more than 150.

Novak Djukic was found guilty of war crimes against civilians and violations of international law and the Geneva conventions on the protection of civilians during warfare, the court council said.

"Novak Djukic is guilty ... because he ordered on May 25, 1995 his artillery unit on the Mountain Ozren to shell Tuzla, which had been declared a United Nations safe zone," said Darko Samardzic, the court council president.

"One missile hit the very centre of the town, Kapija, killing 71 people and injuring more than 150," said Samardzic, reading the verdict. "It is clear that all persons who had been killed and wounded were civilians."

Relatives cried as he read out the names of those killed and wounded. Most victims were aged between 18 and 25. The youngest was a two-year-old boy, hit while in the arms of his father.

Djukic was a commander of the Bosnian Serb army in the Tuzla region during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. Tuzla was declared a U.N. safe zone in 1993.

Djukic was promoted to the rank of general after the war and became the Bosnian Serb army chief of staff before retiring in 2005. He was arrested in 2007 on suspicion that he had ordered one of the worst massacres of the Bosnian war.

"Any attack on Tuzla, a U.N. safe zone, represented an attack on civilians," Samardzic said. He added the court was aware the sentence would be regarded as mild by families of the victims, and harsh by Djukic’s brothers-in-arms.

Hilmo Bucuk, who led a group of parents of child victims to the Sarajevo court, said the prevailing mood was one of satisfaction that Djukic was punished, but that they had hoped for a life sentence.

"We do have a verdict, but our children are gone," Bucuk told reporters. (Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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