A UN war crimes tribunal has sentenced Milan Babic, the wartime leader of Croatia's rebellious Serbs, to 13 years imprisonment, saying his role in ethnic cleansing showed "ruthlessness and savagery."
Babic, 48, once one of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's closest allies, was convicted in January of one count of persecution for the seven-month campaign against non-Serbs in the self-proclaimed Croatian Republic of Krajina.
Hundreds of civilians were executed or murdered in Krajina and about 80,000 non-Serbs, mostly Croats and a few Muslims, were expelled.
Prosecutors had recommended a maximum jail sentence of 11 years as part of the plea agreement, under which they dropped four counts of war crimes against Babic. But the court decided on a longer sentence due to the gravity of the crime.
Babic (R) was ruthless in his
crimes, ruled the judge
"More than 200 civilians, including women and elderly persons were murdered, and several hundred civilians were confined or imprisoned in inhumane conditions," presiding judge Alphons Orie on Tuesday told the court before handing down the sentence.
Babic pleaded guilty to the single count in a deal in which prosecutors dropped four other charges of murder, cruelty and the wanton destruction of villages during the war in Croatia, which began when the Serbs revolted after Croatia broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991.
"Babic does not deny the seriousness of the crimes," said Judge Orie. "The crimes were characterised by ruthlessness and savagery and had a severe impact on victims and their relatives. Their suffering is still significant."
The sentence was harsher than the 11-year recommendation by the prosecution, which Orie said "does not achieve the purpose of punishment, nor does it do justice."
The court gave credit to Babic, a former dentist and head of a prewar health clinic, for voluntarily surrendering to the tribunal and testifying against Milosevic, considered the most important war crimes trial since World War II.
"The crimes were characterised by ruthlessness and savagery and had a severe impact on victims and their relatives"
Judge Alphons Orie,
UN war crimes tribunal
Babic remained quiet after sentencing, but during his plea hearing in January, he begged forgiveness of the Croatian people, saying that he felt "a deep sense of shame and remorse."
"The persecutions caused the murder or extermination of hundreds of Croat or other non-Serb civilians ... They also caused the routine and prolonged imprisonment of hundreds of Croat and other non-Serb civilians," said the judgment read by Orie.
By giving "ethnically inflammatory" speeches and funding the armed Serb rebellion, Babic laid the foundation for the Croatian conflict which, Orie said, is still suffering the consequences.