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Bosnia court jails Croatian war crimes deputy

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - A powerful Croatian parliament deputy who fled to Bosnia last year to avoid going to jail for war crimes has been sentenced to eight years in prison by a Bosnian court, upholding a Croatian court’s earlier verdict.

Croat parliamentary deputy Branimir Glavas speaks to reporters after his court hearing in Zagreb in this June 5, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Davor Kovacevic

Branimir Glavas was the first senior Croatian official convicted of war crimes committed against Serbs during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

“The court of Bosnia-Herzegovina reached and handed down the verdict under which Branimir Glavas is declared guilty for the criminal act of war crimes against the civilian population,” the Bosnian court said in a statement on Wednesday.

A Croatian court sentenced Glavas in May 2009 to 10 years over the 1991 torture and killing of Serb civilians in his native town of Osijek, but he fled to Bosnia where he was protected from extradition as a Bosnian passport holder.

Since then, Glavas has lived in the village of Drinovci in the southern Herzegovina region where his parents were born.

Bosnia and Croatia signed a deal in February to stop people with dual citizenship convicted of a crime in one country from avoiding jail by fleeing to the other, which allowed the Bosnian police to arrest Glavas on Tuesday afternoon.

“The court sentenced Branimir Glavas to eight years in prison. The court also ordered a detention for the accused in the duration of nine months at most, or until the court takes a new decision,” the court said.

Until this year, the western Balkan countries have not had common agreements on extradition and convicts from Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia have increasingly used this legal loophole to avoid jail.

Croatia’s Supreme Court this year reduced Glavas’s prison term to eight years. Glavas has denied any wrongdoing and protested against his detention and trial in Croatia, saying it was politically motivated.

Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia all have ambitions to join the European Union. Their effectiveness in punishing war criminals is a major factor for successful membership bids.

Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Michael Roddy