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Karadzic could be jailed for life in final Srebrenica appeal ruling

THE HAGUE/SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic will face U.N. appeals judges on Wednesday for a ruling that will end one of the highest profile legal battles stemming from the Balkan wars of the 1990s that saw the collapse of the former Yugoslavia.

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Karadzic, 73, was sentenced to 40 years in prison in 2016 after being convicted of genocide for the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces.

He was also found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity for being the political mastermind behind a campaign of ethnic cleansing that saw Croats and Muslims driven from Serb-claimed areas of Bosnia.

Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence and a second genocide conviction for his alleged role in a policy of targeting non-Serbs across Bosnia in the early years of the war. Karadzic meanwhile is appealing against his conviction.

Nura Begovic, who lost 16 relatives in the Bosnian war, is hoping for the maximum jail term.

“Nobody can return our loved ones but (a life sentence) would mean there is at least some justice,” said Begovic, whose brother’s remains were identified in a DNA laboratory at the International Commission for Missing People in The Hague last month after being recovered from a mass grave.

Trial judges ruled that prosecutors fell short of proving genocide on the charge he was acquitted of, which would have required showing an intent to destroy Muslim and Croat populations, rather than driving them away.

Karadzic and his lawyers say his words were twisted during the trial and that prosecutors unfairly blackened his name. He wants his conviction overturned and the judges to order a re-run of what he called a seven-year “out-of-control mega-trial”.

Appeal judges at a tribunal in The Hague handling the remaining cases from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia have been considering both sides’ arguments and will deliver their verdict on Wednesday.

The ruling, which is final and cannot be appealed, will have huge resonance in the former Yugoslavia, especially in Bosnia, where ethnic communities remain divided and Karadzic is still seen as a hero by many Bosnian Serbs.

“The Karadzic case is one of the biggest, longest, most important cases” handled by international tribunals in the aftermath of the war,” said Utrecht University historian Iva Vukusic.

She said she saw little ground for a retrial, or significant changes to the earlier judgment.

The anti-Croat and Muslim campaign under Karadzic included the establishment of a system of detention camps where non-Serbs were held in inhumane conditions, beaten, tortured and sexually assaulted, trial judges ruled.

Karadzic was instrumental in the campaign of shelling and sniping against civilians during the 44-month siege of Sarajevo which terrorised the Bosnian capital’s population, the trial judges said.

He was arrested on a Belgrade bus in 2008 after a manhunt of more than a decade. In his last few years on the run in Serbia he had posed as a new age therapist named Dragan Dabic, complete with a flowing grey beard.

An appeal verdict is pending in the case of former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, who was convicted of war crimes and genocide in November 2017 and sentenced to life in prison.

Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Alison Williams