|Milan Martic led Serbs in rebellion in Croatia.|
Former leader guilty of Serb war crimes
Tribunal convicts Martic in murders, torture in Croatia
THE HAGUE -- The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal convicted a former associate of Slobodan Milosevic of murder, torture, and persecution yesterday and sentenced him to 35 years in prison for a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign of non-Serbs in Croatia.
Judges said Milan Martic, 52, was responsible for hundreds of murders from 1991, when Serbs in the Krajina region of southern Croatia rebelled and set up a breakaway ministate, until 1995, when Croatian forces recaptured the area.
He also was convicted of ordering two days of indiscriminate cluster bomb shelling of the Croatian capital, Zagreb, in May 1995 that killed at least seven civilians and injured more than 200.
Most of the crimes were "committed against elderly people, persons held in detention, and civilians. The special vulnerability of these victims adds to the gravity of the crimes," said presiding Judge Bakone Moloto of South Africa.
Martic did not comment during the hearing.
The three-judge UN panel said Martic was deeply involved in a criminal plot with other Serb leaders, including Milosevic, General Ratko Mladic, and Radovan Karadzic, to carve out an ethnically pure "greater Serbia" as Yugoslavia crumbled. That area would include about one-third of Croatia.
Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader called Martic a key player in the aggression toward Croatians and said Martic was "responsible for the deaths of many Croats."
Even some Serbs applauded the verdict, saying it would help Croatia move on from its painful past. Milorad Pupovac, a key leader of Croatia's ethnic Serbs, said Martic symbolized the hostility among some Serbs in Croatia in the early 1990s. "We Serbs in Croatia are also interested in seeing that such a policy is finished and that those who carried it are penalized," he said.
Martic was indicted in July 1995, just two months after ordering the shelling of Zagreb.
The two-day indiscriminate attack -- using rockets loaded with cluster bombs -- hit a school, a children's hospital, and the Croatian national theater, Moloto said. Martic admitted to the press that he ordered the shelling to retaliate against Croatian attacks on Serbs.
In October of 1991, about 30 villagers in Hrvatska Dubica and Cerovljani were taken to the banks of a nearby river and killed, Moloto said. Their bodies were dumped in several graves.