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Bosnian Serb convicted in U.N. court’s first war crimes verdict

May 7, 1997 GMT

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ A U.N. court convicted a Bosnian Serb of crimes against humanity today in the verdict of the first international war crimes trial since World War II.

The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal acquitted Dusan Tadic of all nine murder charges but found him guilty of 11 of 31 counts of war crimes and other atrocities committed during Bosnia’s war.

The 41-year-old karate expert and former cafe owner _ charged with murder and torture in and around three Serb-run camps in northwest Bosnia in 1992 _ stood impassively as the first verdict was read convicting him of crimes against humanity.

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The three-judge panel’s verdict was the first following an international trial since military tribunals in Tokyo and Nuremberg sent 17 Axis leaders to the gallows. It came a year to the day after the trial began.

Tadic was convicted of 10 charges of beatings, some considered torture, and of a broad charge of persecution that included the killings of two Muslim police officers. But he was not specifically found responsible of murder in those deaths.

The Hague tribunal has no death penalty. Tadic had faced a life sentence for any of the murder charges, but it was unclear what maximum penalty Tadic faced given that he was cleared of those.

Judges said they would sentence Tadic on July 1.

Both sides have 30 days to contest the verdicts. It was not immediately clear whether either defense or prosecution would lodge appeals.

Tadic was escorted out of the court by two U.N. guards and sent back to his detention cell. As he left, he waved to someone in the public gallery.

Tribunal spokesman Christian Chartier hailed today’s verdict as ``a judicial condemnation of the ethnic cleansing policy.″

Tadic had pleaded innocent to all charges, claiming he was a victim of mistaken identity swept up by authorities frantic to find scapegoats for atrocities in Bosnia.

Acquittals on all charges would have raised serious doubts about the U.N. tribunals ability to gather ironclad testimony on atrocities that happened during the 3 1/2-year Bosnian war, which ended in 1995.

Witness testimony of brutalities at the prison camps, while graphic, often failed to conclusively identify Tadic as the culprit.

Most of the tribunal’s cases against the 74 other indicted suspects lack physical evidence and will similarly rely on witnesses.

``Although this is the first trial conducted by the international tribunal and thus has some historic dimension, the goal of the trial chamber was always first and foremost to provide the accused with the fair trial to which he was entitled,″ said presiding judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald of the United States. ``This, we believe, has been done.″

Tadic was acquitted of a murder charge stemming from a now-infamous case in which prosecutors allege he forced one Muslim inmate to bite off another’s testicle. The victim later died of his injuries.

But Tadic was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in that same incident.

Also among the convictions was a charge that Tadic took part in the systematic persecution of his former Muslim and Croat neighbors in the Prijedor region.

Allegations in that far-reaching count include Tadic’s involvement, with Serb forces, in killing and torturing Muslims and Croats in and outside the Omarska, Trnopolje and Keraterm camps, names that have become symbols of Serb brutality during the Bosnian war.

That charge also alleged he was involved in the rebel Serb attack on Tadic’s home village of Kozarac _ including the killing of an elderly man and woman _ and the subsequent torturing and killing of detainees at the camps.

The charge, which amounts to a summary of some other counts in the indictment, also says he plundered property as Serb forces ``ethnically cleansed″ the Prijedor region.

The 150 U.N.-blue seats in the court’s public gallery were packed with press, public and tribunal employees for today’s verdicts. The spectators were separated from the courtroom by a thick wall of bulletproof glass.

Despite its 74 indictments, the tribunal has just eight suspects in custody. Tadic was arrested by German authorities in Munich in September 1994.

Among the indicted suspects still wanted by the tribunal are former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his wartime army chief, Gen. Ratko Mladic. Both have been indicted twice for genocide for their responsibility for atrocities committed by Bosnian Serb forces during the war.

But Serbian authorities refuse to extradite any of their citizens to the U.N. court, which was set up by the Security Council in 1993 and has no police force to go out and arrest suspects. The majority of indicted suspects are Serbs.