Serbian general Perisic jailed for 27 years at Hague

Perisic stood to hear the UN tribunal deliver its guilty verdict

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The UN tribunal at The Hague has convicted the most senior officer of the former Yugoslav Army to stand trial for war crimes.

General Momcilo Perisic, who commanded the Yugoslav Army during the wars in Bosnia and Croatia, was sentenced to 27 years in prison.

He was convicted of aiding and abetting crimes but acquitted of a direct role in the Srebrenica massacre.

The general, 67, had pleaded not guilty to the accusations.

Smartly dressed, he sat in court taking notes during the reading of the verdict on Tuesday.

Perisic was convicted of aiding and abetting murders, inhumane acts, persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, and attacks on civilians in Sarajevo and Srebrenica, Judge Bakone Moloto announced.

He was also found guilty of failing to punish his subordinates for their crimes of murder, attacks on civilians and injuring and wounding civilians during rocket attacks on Zagreb in Croatia.

Links to Belgrade

Tuesday's judgment was the first handed down by the tribunal in a case against an official of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia for crimes committed in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Gen Momcilo Perisic

  • Born in Serbia in 1944, graduated from military academy in 1966
  • Took command of Yugoslav Army in 1993, as wars in Bosnia and Croatia raged
  • Sacked from his post in 1998 by Slobodan Milosevic reportedly for opposing the crackdown in Kosovo and possible use of force against Montenegro
  • Formed a pro-democracy party that helped oust Milosevic from power in 2000, and became deputy prime minister of Serbia
  • Arrested for espionage after dining with a US diplomat in March 2002 but trial never completed
  • Surrendered to Hague tribunal in 2005
  • Convicted 6 September 2011 of aiding and abetting war crimes by ethnic Serb forces in Bosnia and Croatia

It is widely known that close links existed between the Yugoslav leadership and Serb breakaway authorities, but attempts to prove criminal responsibility during the trial of the former Serbian and Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, were ended by his premature death before the case was concluded, the BBC's Mark Lowen reports.

It was found by the tribunal that Perisic had overseen the Yugoslav Army's "provision of extensive logistical assistance" to ethnic Serb forces in Bosnia and Croatia.

This included "vast quantities of infantry and artillery ammunition, fuel, spare parts, training and technical assistance".

Such assistance "became more centralised, structured and co-ordinated during Gen Perisic's tenure", Judge Moloto said.

During the trial, prosecutor Mark Harmon argued that Perisic had played a role in crimes from a distance.

"He never personally killed anyone, he never personally set fire to a house in Bosnia and Croatia, [but he] aided and abetted those who did all these things," Mr Harmon said.

"This form of participation should not mitigate his responsibility."

Acquitted of Srebrenica charge
Former Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff General Momcilo Perisic in an image from 1998 Perisic was sacked in 1998 for criticising Slobodan Milosevic

The tribunal found evidence that Perisic had had a "collaborative relationship" with Bosnian Serb military commander Gen Ratko Mladic, and "substantially aided his operations".

Gen Mladic is currently on trial at The Hague on charges of crimes including genocide.

But the tribunal did not find evidence that Perisic had "exercised effective control" over Gen Mladic or any other Yugoslav Army officer serving in the Bosnian Serb army.

Clearing Perisic of the count of extermination, Judge Moloto said the tribunal had been unable to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the general could have foreseen that the Bosnian Serb army would systematically massacre Muslims after the fall of Srebrenica.

The surrender of Perisic to The Hague in March 2005 brought to an end one of the most dramatic careers of any top figure from the Milosevic era.

Regarded as one of Milosevic's closest allies in the mid-1990s, he fell out with him in 1998. He was sacked from his command, reportedly for opposing the use of the military against Kosovo and Montenegro.

Founding a pro-democracy party, he became deputy prime minister of Serbia after Milosevic was ousted, but in 2002 he was arrested on suspicion of passing state secrets to the US.

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