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Tribunal Jails Confessed Srebrenica Killer for 10 Years

November 29, 1996 GMT

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ A U.N. court sentenced a Bosnian Serb army soldier to 10 years in prison Friday for his role in the massacre of 1,200 Muslims _ the first international war crimes sentence since World War II.

Drazen Erdemovic, 25, admitted being part of an eight-man execution squad that gunned down unarmed civilians 40 miles north of Srebrenica, a U.N.-protected Muslim enclave, on July 16 last year.

Prosecutors at the U.N. tribunal investigating crimes committed during the war in former Yugoslavia had recommended no more than 10 years for Erdemovic, who pleaded guilty to crimes against humanity.

An estimated 7,000 men and boys disappeared in the massacre _ one of the single biggest of Bosnia’s 3 1/2-year war. Witnesses reported many of the disappeared were rounded up and shot after Bosnian Serbs overran Srebrenica and overwhelmed the few Dutch peacekeepers there.

Erdemovic, a Croat who served with the Bosnian Serb army, had said he only carried out orders to shoot because he feared for his own life. His lawyer plans to appeal.

Erdemovic had faced a maximum sentence of life in prison. U.S. prosecutor Mark Harmon called for leniency because Erdemovic showed remorse and helped investigators.

Since it was established in 1993, the Yugoslavia tribunal has indicted 74 people, including Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and former military leader Gen. Ratko Mladic. Both have been charged with genocide. But the tribunal has just seven suspects in custody, and the two are not among them.

The tribunal’s chief prosecutor, Louise Arbour, hailed the tribunal’s first sentence as an incentive for war criminals and witnesses to come forward.

``It should send a very strong signal that the court is very fair and balanced and that the prosecutor will support the expression of remorse,″ Arbour said.

Harmon said that without Erdemovic the tribunal probably never would have found out about the Srebrenica massacres. Exhumations at the site already have unearthed more than 150 bodies.

At a pre-sentencing hearing last week, Erdemovic told the U.N. court that taking part in the massacre ruined his life.

``It destroyed me. It killed me. I simply thought that my life was worthless after that,″ he said.

His commanding officer repeatedly ordered him to shoot groups of 10 Muslims, many blindfolded and with their hands bound behind their backs, he said.

Presiding Judge Claude Jorda of France told Erdemovic he should serve the term, minus time he has served since March.

Erdemovic remained calm Friday as he was led away after the 45-minute hearing. He is expected to serve his term in Italy, Norway or Finland.

Although jailing him represents progress for the U.N. court, it is only a small step forward. Prosecutors did not have to gather any evidence against Erdemovic, and he was not a significant player in the war.

Later Friday, an EU official urged NATO nations to arrest Karadzic and Mladic, who remain in Bosnia.

Hans van den Broek, the foreign affairs commissioner, said that unless war criminals are brought to justice, there can be no reconciliation in Bosnia.

The alliance has always said it would not seek out and arrest war crimes suspects because that was not its job under the U.N. peacekeeping mandate.