Bosnian Serb commanders' convictions upheld at war crimes court

Bosnian Serb Milan Lukic attends the appeals verdict in his trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, in The Hague December 4, 2012 Milan Lukic had his life sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity upheld

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Two Bosnian Serb commanders have had their appeal against convictions for war crimes rejected.

Cousins Milan and Sredoje Lukic were contesting their guilty verdicts at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

The court upheld the life sentence handed to Milan Lukic in 2009 and reduced Sredoje's from 30 years to 27.

The pair were formerly members of the notorious White Eagles Serb paramilitary group.

The decision by the tribunal to uphold the commanders' lengthy prison sentences is likely to cause anger in Belgrade, where some people feel the court has unfairly targeted Serbs.

Serbians recently protested over the tribunal's decision to acquit a high-ranking Croatian army officer and the former Kosovo prime minister in two separate cases.

Milan and Sredoje Lukic were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the tribunal in 2009, with judges describing their crimes as "the worst acts of inhumanity that a person may inflict upon others".

The charges relate to events which took place in the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad during the 1992-1995 conflict.

Houses burned

Milan Lukic was found guilty of persecutions, murder, extermination, cruel treatment and inhumane acts against Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), amounting to crimes against humanity and war crimes, in relation to six discrete incidents.

The 45-year-old was found responsible for the murder of 59 women, children and elderly men in a house in the town in June 1992.

The victims were locked into one room of the house which was then set on fire. Milan Lukic was found to have placed the explosive device in the room which set the house ablaze, and to have shot at people as they tried to flee from the burning building.

He was also found guilty of the murder of at least 60 Bosniak civilians in a house in the town's Bikavac settlement later in June the same year.

The court found that he and other armed groups had forced the civilians inside the house, blocked all the exits and thrown in several explosive devices and petrol, setting it ablaze.

Sredoje Lukic, who is Milan's cousin and a 51-year-old police officer, was present at one of the burnings and was found to have "substantially contributed to the deaths" though his armed presence.

Both men had asked the court to reverse their convictions, or at least reduce their jail terms.

Their lawyers claimed the court made "substantial and factual errors" and "certain oversights in the first trial regarding the identification of the appellant".

The prosecution also filed an appeal, asking the court to increase Sredoje Lukic's sentence.

Milan Lukic was transferred to The Hague in February 2006 from Argentina, where he was arrested in August 2005 having been on the run for more than five years.

Sredoje Lukic, who according to prosecutors was hiding in Russia, turned himself in to Bosnian Serb authorities in September 2005 and was then transferred to The Hague.

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