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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Court Sets Bosnian Croat Jail Chief Free




THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- A United Nations court freed a Bosnian Croat prison commander Friday in a landmark judgment that may complicate prosecution of those behind a 1992-93 ethnic cleansing campaign against Moslems in Bosnia-Herzegovina.


Judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia found Zlatko Aleksovski, 39, guilty on one count of violations of the laws and customs of war.


But they acquitted him of two counts of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions in a complex ruling that determined prisoners at the Kaonik detention unit during the Bosnian war were not protected under the international treaty protecting prisoners' and civilians' rights in wartime.


The court sentenced Aleks-ovski to 2 1/2 years in prison, then told him he was a free man because he had already been in detention for more than two years and 10 months.


Presiding Judge Almiro Rodrigues of Portugal gave the prosecution and defense 15 days to appeal, and the prosecution immediately indicated it would do so. Prosecutors had asked the court to sentence Aleksovski to a minimum of 10 years' imprisonment.


Aleksovski, who stood as the verdict was read, buried his head in his hands and wept.


"Never have I hated anyone. Never have I wanted to play a part in inflicting anything bad on anyone. I was, am and wish to remain a citizen of mankind," he told the court.


The judges' decision to acquit Aleksovski on the Geneva Conventions charges could have a far-reaching impact on three other cases before the tribunal linked to bloodshed in the same Lasva Valley region of central Bosnia.


Bosnian Croat political leader Dario Kordic, military commander Mario Cerkez and Bosnian Croat General Tihomir Blaskic were all named on the same 1995 indictment as Aleksovski. All are accused of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.


The judges will set down the reasoning behind their not-guilty verdict, reached by a 2-to-1 majority, in a written ruling to be released at a later date.


Proving the existence of an international armed conflict is at the heart of prosecutors' case against Kordic, Cerkez and Blaskic.


The indictment against them accuses Bosnian Croat forces of violating international humanitarian law during concerted attacks against Moslem civilians in Lasva Valley towns and villages.


Aleksovski was the commander of a prison at Kaonik, near Busovaca, from January to May 1993, a time when hundreds of Bosnian Moslem civilians were brought to the unit.


The judges were unanimous in declaring Aleksovski guilty of "outrages upon personal dignity," categorized in the tribunal statutes as a violation of the laws or customs of war.