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Bosnia Croat’s Sentence Reduced

March 5, 1998 GMT

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ A Bosnian Croat’s 10-year jail sentence for massacring about 70 unarmed Muslim prisoners was reduced to five years today by judges at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys had requested a seven-year term after Drazen Erdemovic appealed his original conviction for crimes against humanity and the 10-year sentence, choosing instead to plead guilty to a war crime.

But a three-judge panel went further and reduced the sentence to five years. The panel said Erdemovic ``should be given a chance to start his life afresh while he is still young enough to do so.″

The judges also said Erdemovic should be given credit for the two years he has already served, in effect cutting the actual time he must serve to three years from today.

Erdemovic, 26, looked down and appeared to blink away tears after the sentence reduction.

At his first appearance before the court, in May 1996, Erdemovic admitted killing about 70 Muslim men at a collective farm near Srebrenica and pleaded guilty to a crime against humanity.

He was part of a makeshift Bosnian Serb Army firing squad that massacred hundreds of Muslims following the July 1995 Serb takeover of the United Nations-protected Srebrenica enclave in northeastern Bosnia.

But judges ruled last year that Erdemovic had been badly informed about the consequences of his original plea and ordered him to enter a new plea.

The indictment charged Erdemovic with a single crime against humanity count or an alternative charge of a war crime relating to the massacre.

Given a second chance to plead, Erdemovic opted Jan. 14 to plead guilty to a war crime, considered the less serious of the two counts.

He will likely serve his sentence in an Italian or Finnish prison _ those are the only two countries to have signed a deal with the tribunal to imprison convicted war criminals.

Presiding judge Florence Mumba said the court had taken into account the pressure Erdemovic was put under to kill and his obvious remorse at the executions.

Psychologists said he is suffering from post-traumatic stress.

``The trial chamber finds that there was a real risk that the accused would have been killed had he disobeyed the orders″ to shoot the Muslims, Mumba said.

Mumba also gave Erdemovic credit for helping investigators building war crimes cases against the court’s most wanted suspects, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and the wartime leader of the Bosnian Serb army, Gen. Ratko Mladic.

But she added that the court could not and should not forget ``the suffering of the victims.″