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Srebrenica survivors disappointed, say Karadzic's verdict came late

SREBRENICA, Bosnia (Reuters) - Survivors of the Srebrenica massacre said the 40-year jail term handed down on Thursday to Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic for war crimes and genocide was not tough enough and came too late.

“I am so disappointed,” said Bida Smajlovic, 64, who watched a live broadcast of the verdict with her two sisters-in-law in Potocari, a Srebrenica suburb where the three women saw their husbands for the last time 21 years ago.

“We have been in shock ever since the first gunshot and this is yet another one,” she added.

All three of the husbands perished when Bosnian Serb forces, commanded by General Ratko Mladic, took over the U.N.-protected area of Srebrenica on July 11, 1995.

They separated women from men and massacred about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the following days in Europe’s worst single atrocity since World War Two.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found Karadzic guilty on 10 counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the customs of war, including the genocide in Srebrenica. It acquitted him of charges for genocide in seven other municipalities.

“I wish there was capital punishment,” added Vasva Smajlovic, 73. “My husband is dead for 20 years and Karadzic is still alive. At least I expected a lifetime (in) prison.”

The streets were empty in what is now a ghost town and there were only rare passers-by willing to comment on the verdict on the president of the self-styled Bosnian Serb Republic and the supreme commander of its armed forces during the 1992-95 war.

Bida Smajlovic’s husband tried to escape through the woods but was killed along with his two brothers. Their bodies were found in two separate mass graves in the eastern Bosnia, where bones of the Srebrenica victims are still being dug out 20 years later.

“This came too late,” sighed Bida Smajlovic, who lives alone in her home overlooking 7,000 white tombstones where the victims were buried. Another 1,000 are still unaccounted for.

“We were handed down a verdict in 1995,” she said. “There is no sentence that could compensate for the horrors we went through or for the tears of only one mother, let alone thousands.”

Many Bosnian Serbs however defend Karadzic and believe that Serbs have been unjustly targeted by The Hague tribunal.

“The 40-year imprisonment is unfair and will contribute neither to truth nor to trust in our region,” said Mladen Bosic, the head of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) that Karadzic founded in 1990.

“The Hague tribunal has once again shown that it is a political court, the politically-based verdicts were handed down to all Serb leaders from Serbia, (Bosnia’s autonomous) Republika Srpska and Croatia,” he said.

“It hurts that this day is chosen to pronounce the verdict (to Karadzic) in the Hague,” Bosnian Serb president Milorad Dodik told reporters shortly before the verdict. He was speaking at a ceremony in Serbia to commemorate the anniversary of the start of NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia in 1999.

Writing by by Daria Sito-Sucic, additional reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Adrian Croft/Jeremy Gaunt

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