BELGRADE, June 18 (Reuters) - Four former paramilitaries were sentenced on Thursday by Serbia’s war crimes court to prison terms ranging from 15 to 20 years for the killings of 14 Kosovo Albanians in 1999, a spokeswoman said.
They were found guilty of participating in the murder of Kosovo Albanian women, men and children in Podujevo, northern Kosovo on March 28, 1999, court spokeswoman Ivana Ramic said.
The youngest victim was a 21-month old infant and five children were wounded.
"Zeljko Djukic, Dragan Medic and Dragan Borojevic were sentenced to 20 years in prison while Midrag Solaja was sentenced to 15 years in prison as the court determined he was under 18 when he committed the crime," Ramic said.
The men belonged to the notorious Scorpions paramilitary group. Some of its members have been convicted of killing Bosnian Muslim captives during the 1992-95 Bosnia war, and one was found guilty of killing ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
NATO began an air campaign against Serbian forces on March 24 1999, to halt the killing of ethnic Albanian civilians in a two-year counter-insurgency war. The campaign ended in June 1999 when Serb forces withdrew from Kosovo.
"This is very brave sentence," said Bruno Vekaric, a spokesman for Serbia’s Chief War Crimes Prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic. "With this verdict Serbia has shown that it is ready to repair bad things from its past."
The Scorpions were the most brutal of the many Serb and Bosnian Serb paramilitary groups active in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.
The broadcasting in 2005 of a Scorpions videotape showing the killing of six Bosnian Muslim youths shocked the Serb public and raised awareness of atrocities that until then had been dismissed as anti-Serb propaganda.
Dealing with war crimes committed by Serb forces in Croatia and Bosnia has been the major obstacle for Serbia’s progress toward the European Union membership, set as a priority by the country’s one year old government.
The 27-nation bloc said it will unfreeze trade benefits for Serbia only when Bosnian Serb wartime general Ratko Mladic, indicted for genocide, is arrested. (Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; editing by Philippa Fletcher)