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Serbia appeals court overturns war crimes conviction of Bosnia officer

The Belgrade Appeals Court on Monday overturned the war crimes conviction of former Bosnian officer Ilija Jurisic and ordered a retrial. The court reasoned that September 2009 proceedings in the War Crimes Chamber [HRW backgrounder] of the Belgrade District Court provided insufficient evidence [AP report], releasing Jurisic and overturning his 12-year prison sentence. Jurisic, accused of coordinating an attack against a Serb-led Yugoslav Peoples' Army (JNA) convoy during the Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archive], was originally found guilty [press release] of violating Article 148 of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) Criminal Act [text] for using means of warfare prohibited by international law. As the former head of the Operational Group of the Tulza-based Public Security Center, Jurisic allegedly ordered open fire on a JNA convoy of soldiers, which was in the process of peacefully withdrawing from Tulza, killing at least 51 and wounding 50 soldiers. Jurisic has been in custody since he was arrested [press release] in Belgrade in 2007 and denies all charges against him.

Serbia has undertaken an ongoing effort to apprehend those responsible for the atrocities that occurred in the region over the last two decades. Last month, the War Crimes Chamber sentenced [press release, PDF; JURIST report] former paramilitary officer Zeljko Djukic [JURIST news archive] 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]. In August, 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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