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Serbia war crimes court sentences ex-paramilitary officer over Kosovo war killings

The War Crimes Department of the Higher Court in Belgrade on Wednesday sentenced [press release; PDF] former paramilitary officer Zeljko Djukic to 20 years in prison for his involvement in the deaths of 14 civilians in March 1999 during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Djukic, a member of the Serbian paramilitary group known as Scorpion [JURIST news archive], was originally convicted [JURIST report] of the murders in June 2009. The conviction was overturned [JURIST report] earlier this year by a Serbian appeals court. The appeals court demanded a retrial for Djukic because the original verdict was based exclusively on testimony of a protected witness, which is against the Serbian Criminal Procedure Code [text, PDF]. The Higher Court again convicted Djukic on the charges brought by the War Crimes Prosecutor [official website] after it was made clear that Djukic was among the men who committed the murders. According to testimony at the trial, the Scorpions lined up 19 people, mostly women and children, and sprayed them with machine gun fire. In addition to Djukic, Dragan Medic, Dragan Borojevic and Miodrag Solaj have been convicted for their involvement. Djukic will be credited for his time served since 2007.

The conviction of Djukic is another step in the ongoing effort to apprehend those responsible for the atrocities that occurred in the region over the last two decades. Last month, Croatian authorities extradited Sretko Kalinic to Serbia for his alleged connection with the 2003 assassination [JURIST reports] of former Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic [BBC obituary; memorial website, in Serbian]. In July, an extradition hearing [JURIST report] for former Bosnian president Ejup Ganic began in London to determine whether the former leader should be forced to face trial in Serbia for alleged war crimes. In April, Swedish police arrested a Serbian man [JURIST report] suspected of committing war crimes in the Kosovo village of Cuska during the war. In March, a spokesperson for Serbia's Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor announced the arrest of nine individuals [JURIST report] suspected of being members of the Serbian paramilitary group Sakali and accused of the systematic murders of 41 ethnic Albanians in May 1999. The continuing attempt to find all individuals responsible for the atrocities has created a new political tension [JURIST comment] in the region that will not soon go away.

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