AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Former Serbian president Milan Milutinovic was acquitted on Thursday by the Hague tribunal of war crimes against Kosovo Albanians in 1999, but his five co-accused were given jail terms of between 15 and 22 years.
“The Chamber is not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Milan Milutinovi made a significant contribution to the joint criminal enterprise,” Judge Iain Bonomy said, reading the verdict at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Milutinovic, 66, an ally and successor of late Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, and five co-accused went on trial in July 2006 charged with the deportation of 800,000 civilians from Kosovo and the murders of hundreds by Serb forces in 1999.
The verdict is the latest setback for prosecutors after Milosevic died in custody of a heart attack in March 2006 before a verdict had been reached in his war crimes trial.
Milutinovic was cleared on all five counts against him and ordered to be released from detention.
Former Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, Yugoslav Army General Nebojsa Pavkovic and Serbian police chief Sreten Lukic were each sentenced to 22 years for crimes against humanity and violation of the laws or customs of war.
Yugoslav Army General Vladimir Lazarevic and chief of general staff Dragoljub Ojdanic were found guilty of participating in the deportation and forcible transfer of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and sentenced to 15 years.
Many Kosovo Albanians were angry that Milosevic’s death robbed them of a verdict on the crimes he was accused of in Kosovo and had said they hoped the trial of Milutinovic and his co-accused would offer some consolation.
“I thought this will give me relief but I feel more pain,” said Ajshe Shehu, who lost four sons and a husband in March 1999 in the village of Mala Krusa in Kosovo.
“Those who got 22 years will still be alive, but not my sons. I can’t even find their remains,” Shehu said.
The verdict laid much of the blame for the crimes against Milosevic, saying he had most authority and responsibility in the murders, rapes and deportations.
“In practice, it was Milosevic, sometimes termed the Supreme Commander, who exercised actual command authority,” Bonomy said.
The current head of the party founded by Milosevic said the verdicts and sentences of the five co-accused were unjustified.
“The verdict is a confirmation that this process has been political,” said Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic, head of the Socialist Party of Serbia.
Additional reporting by Aaron Gray-Block, Fatos Bytyci in Kosovo; editing by Andrew Roche