°°°°THE HAGUE ®C The UN's Yugoslav war crimes court Thursday acquitted Serbian ex-president Milan Milutinovic of war crimes committed in Kosovo, while jailing five co-accused for between 15 and 22 years.
°°°°The UN's Yugoslav war crimes court has acquitted Serbian ex-president Milan Milutinovic, seen here in 2003, of war crimes in Kosovo. The tribunal has meanwhile jailied five co-accused defendants for between 15 and 22 years. [Agencies]
°°°°"The trial chamber finds you, Milan Milutinovic, not guilty ... and orders that you be immediately released from custody," said judge Iain Bonomy of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
°°°°This was the first ever ruling of the court, based in The Hague, on crimes committed by Serbs during the 1998-9 Kosovo war.
°°°°Milutinovic, 66, had been accused of five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for the deportation of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, as well as murder and persecution.
°°°°He was president of Serbia from December 1997 to December 2002, but the judges found he had had no direct, individual control over the Yugoslav army.
°°°°"In practice, it was (former Yugoslav president Slobodan) Milosevic, sometimes termed the 'Supreme Commander' who exercised actual command authority," said Bonomy.
°°°°Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu said he had "full trust" in the UN court in The Hague in comments after the ruling.
°°°°"Of course we have at all times full trust in the verdict of the international court, but at the same I must emphasize that each and every court case needs to be analyzed in the best way possible," Sejdiu said.
°°°°Milutinovic's five co-accused, including former Yugoslav deputy prime minister Nikola Sainovic, were convicted for what the judges found was a "broad campaign of violence directed against the Kosovo Albanian civilian population".
°°°°Most of the crimes were committed between March and June 1999, during the course of a NATO bombing campaign that ended the conflict and forced Serb and Yugoslav forces to withdraw from the majority ethnic Albanian province.
°°°°All six men had been close allies of Milosevic.
°°°°Prosecutors had sought jail terms of between 20 years and life for the group they blamed for a "widespread or systematic campaign of terror and violence" which included the forcible deportation of at least 700,000 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo between January and June 1999, the murders of hundreds, sexual assault of Albanian civilian women and the destruction of cultural sites.
°°°°Sainovic, 60, ex-Yugoslav army commander Nebojsa Pavkovic, 62, and former Serbian police chief Sreten Lukic, 53, were found guilty of five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentenced to 22 years' imprisonment.
°°°°Yugoslav ex-defence minister Dragoljub Ojdanic, 67, and former Yugoslav army commander Vladimir Lazarevic, 59, were found guilty of two counts each, and jailed for 15 years.
°°°°Bonomy said there was compelling evidence of the existence of a joint criminal enterprise that sought to "modify the ethnic balance in Kosovo to ensure continued control by the Serbian authorities".
°°°°This had entailed a widespread campaign of violence directed against the Albanian population, conducted in an organised manner and utilising "significant" state resources.
°°°°Sainovic, said the judge, "was one of the closest and most trusted associates of Milosevic and a powerful official in the FRY (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) government.
°°°°Pavkovic had played a central role in planning the activities of the Yugoslav Army in Kosovo and Lukic had exercised "significant authority" over Serb police forces.
°°°°All five, in the tribunal's custody for between four and six years, would be given credit for time served.
°°°°The tribunal has indicted a total of nine senior Serb and Yugoslav officials for crimes in Kosovo.
°°°°The first case, that of Milosevic, came to an abrupt end with the former strongman's death in detention in March 2006.
°°°°Milosevic and Serb authorities always insisted they were taking legitimate action against the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army, which they branded a terrorist group.