SARAJEVO (Reuters) - A Montenegrin warlord was jailed for 45 years on Friday for the murder, rape and torture of non-Serb civilians in Sarajevo in the Bosnian war, receiving the longest sentence handed down so far by the Bosnian war crimes court.
Veselin Vlahovic, nicknamed Batko, was found guilty of the murders of 31 people, rapes of at least 13 women and torture and robbery of dozens of civilians in Grbavica and Vraca, Serb-occupied areas of Sarajevo, in 1992, said presiding judge Zoran Bozic.
44-year old Vlahovic, known by his victims as the “Monster of Grbavica” and “Master of Life and Death”, carried out “horrid, cruel and manifold criminal acts”, Bozic said.
Prosecutors compiled a 66-count indictment against Vlahovic, the most extensive ever for crimes committed in the 1992-95 Bosnian war. The 45-year sentence is the maximum that can be given for such crimes.
Bozic said Vlahovic, a member of paramilitary group White Angels, which was allied to the Bosnian Serb army, often demanded ransoms of money or gold for his captives.
“Victims who could not pay for their lives would be typically taken to a recognizable location on Trebevic hill and shot in the head,” Bozic added.
“In June 1992, he forced 13 members of the Pecar family out of their home and ordered three male relatives to run across a front line street planted with mines,” he said.
He then ordered his soldiers to open fire knowing the act would provoke a return of fire from the combat lines. One woman died and three, including a minor girl, were wounded and left on the street.
“It was a typical pattern (of his) behavior. Those who had nothing to offer in turn for their lives were typically killed by a shot in the forehead, mouth or temporal bone, according to forensic accounts,” said Bozic.
He also described how Vlahovic raped a woman who was seven months pregnant in front of her young daughter in their Grbavica apartment, and in another incident raped a woman and then forced her to watch him rape her mother.
Vlahovic, dressed in a light blue shirt, showed no emotion throughout the proceedings, even when the verdict drew loud applause from members of victims’ associations in the heavily packed courtroom.
Bosnian Serbs, backed by the Serb-led Yugoslav army, launched an “ethnic cleansing” campaign in April 1992 in which thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats were killed, held captive or driven from their homes.
Within months Serb forces had captured almost three-quarters of Bosnia and encircled its capital Sarajevo, where more than 10,000 people died in a 3-1/2-year siege.
Vlahovic, 44, was detained in 2010 in Spain and delivered to the Bosnian court. He had served a jail sentence after the Bosnian war for an armed robbery in Montenegro. He pleaded not guilty at the start of the trial and maintained his stance.
“It’s a deserved punishment for all the suffering he caused,” a protected witness told Reuters through tears after the case was closed.
More than 100,000 people were killed in the course of the 1992-95 war.
The Bosnian war crimes court was set up in Sarajevo in 2005 to reduce the workload of the United Nations war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
Though the establishment of the courts was also aimed at establishing the truth about the Bosnian conflict and boost reconciliation, Bosnian Serbs see it as a political institution biased against them and have often challenged its legitimacy since most of those convicted are Serbs.
Tiny Montenegro, now independent, was still in union with Serbia during the Balkan wars and many Montenegrins sympathized with the Serb cause against Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Kosovo Albanians.
Reporting by Maja Zuvela; writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; editing by Andrew Roche and Patrick Graham