Serbian secret police chiefs sentenced to 12 years over Bosnian war atrocities

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<span>Photograph: Piroschka van de Wouw/EPA</span>
Photograph: Piroschka van de Wouw/EPA

Two Serbian secret police chiefs have been sentenced by the Hague war crimes tribunal to 12 years in prison for their role in atrocities during the Bosnian war.

Jovica Stanišić, the former head of the state security service (DB) and his deputy, Franko “Frenki” Simatović, who ran DB’s special forces, were ruled to have been “involved in providing some support” to the Serb paramilitaries who carried out ethnic cleansing in the Bosnian town of Bosanski Šamac.

The ruling marks the first time senior Serbian officials from Slobodan Milošević’s regime in the 1990s have been found guilty for war crimes committed in Bosnia.

It has been the longest running international war crimes case in history. Stanišić and Simatović were first charged in 2003. On Wednesday, the two men were detained in The Hague, pending arrangements for transfer to another prison. Both have already served over six years in jail, which will be deducted from the sentence.

Announcing the verdict, Bahamian judge Burton Hall said the prosecution had failed in most cases to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the two men orchestrated crimes committed by Serb paramilitaries across Croatia and Bosnia.

But Hall said there was proof of their involvement and legal responsibility for killings in Bosanski Šamac.

Related: Serbian secret police chiefs face verdict over atrocities in Croatia and Bosnia

“The trial chamber does not find the accused responsible for planning, ordering or abetting any other charged crime,” Hall said.

Stanišić and Simatović were acquitted of all charges in an initial trial which concluded in 2013, but an appeals chamber ordered a retrial in 2015, arguing the judges had taken too narrow a view on defining complicity, requiring evidence of “specific direction” to the paramilitary groups to commit crimes, rather than a broader involvement in a “joint criminal enterprise”.

The second trial, the last major war crimes case to be heard at the Hague tribunal, began in 2017. The defendants are expected to appeal the verdict.

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