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Bosnian Camp Commandant Convicted

May 7, 1999

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ A Bosnian Croat camp commandant was convicted today by the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal of mistreating prisoners and sentenced to two-and-a-half years imprisonment.

But Zlatko Aleksovski was ordered released immediately because he has already served two years and 10 months in custody before and during his trial.

Aleksovski, 39, clasped his face in his hands and wept as presiding judge Almiro Rodrigues of Portugal ordered his release.

``Never have I hated anyone,″ Aleksovski said after hearing the verdict. ``Never have I wanted to play a part in inflicting anything bad on any one. I was, I am and I wish to remain a citizen of mankind.″

Aleksovski was convicted of allowing inmates under his control to be beaten to death, forced to dig frontline trenches for Bosnian Croat forces and deployed as human shields during a brutal 1993 conflict in central Bosnia between Muslims and Bosnian Croats.

``The trial chamber declares Zlatko Aleksovski ... guilty of a violation of the laws and customs of war _ outrages on personal dignity,″ Rodrigues said.

But Aleksovski also was acquitted of two other charges of violating Geneva Conventions covering the same crimes.

The three-judge trial chamber ruled the prisoners were not protected by the conventions, because the Muslim-Bosnian Croat war in central Bosnia was not an international armed conflict.

Drawn up after World War II, the Geneva Conventions protect civilians and prisoners of war caught up in international conflicts.

Prosecutors had asked the three-judge panel to sentence Aleksovski to a minimum of 10 years imprisonment. Prosecutor Brenda Hollis said she planned to appeal the acquittals or the sentence.

Kaonik, a former army barracks, held hundreds of Muslim civilians as Bosnian Croats unleashed a wave of terror and killing in Bosnia’s central Lasva River Valley aimed at ridding the region of all Muslims, prosecutors claimed.

Aleksovski never denied commanding Kaonik, but maintained that he did all he could to improve conditions.

His defense attorneys claimed that Aleksovski’s role at the camp was purely administrative and that he had no authority to prevent or punish mistreatment of prisoners.

Aleksovski was the fourth Bosnian Croat convicted for war crimes by the U.N. tribunal.

Prosecutors acknowledged that Aleksovski sometimes tried to care for his prisoners, but stressed he more often did not and was fully aware that inmates were being mistreated and failed to halt the brutality.

Set up in 1993 to bring to justice those guilty of atrocities in wars since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, the United Nations court has convicted and sentenced three other Bosnian Croats for war crimes committed in Bosnia. It has also jailed one Bosnian Serb and two Muslims for atrocities. One Bosnian Muslim has been acquitted.

Before Aleksovski was led away, Rodrigues told him, ``I hope you make the best of your freedom.″