A Belgrade court sentenced seven members of the ‘Sima’s Chetniks’ paramilitary unit to a total of 73 years in prison for murdering 28 civilians including children in Zvornik in Bosnia.
Belgrade’s special court on Friday sentenced Zoran Stojanovic and Zoran Djurdjevic to 20 years, Tomislav Gavric and Zoran Alic to 10 years, Djordje Sevic and Dragana Djekic to five years and Damir Bogdanovic to two years for the killings of 28 Roma civilians, the rape and torture of three Roma women and the demolition of a mosque in the village of Skocic.
“By destroying [the mosque], they carried out a large-scale demolition of property. Immediately after this senseless act, they went to [the Roma district of] Skocic, where they continued committing crimes in which they demonstrated a lack of humanity,” said presiding judge Rastko Popovic.
Popovic said that in 1992, the defendants killed 27 Roma civilians in Skocic, threw them into a pit and then set off a hand grenade. The other civilian was killed in a village yard.
The three Roma women were repeatedly raped while being held under house arrest in the nearby village of Malesic between June and December 1992.
“They were raped daily, beaten on various body parts, forced into hard labour. All this was done because they were of a different ethnicity,” said Popovic.
Serbia’s deputy war crimes prosecutor Bruno Vekaric said that despite the sentences, he could not say that he was satisfied that justice had been done.
“When you hear what kind of crimes were committed, it is hard to express satisfaction, especially when you hear someone killed children aged from two to 12 years old, pregnant woman, and another 20 people,” Vekaric told journalists outside the court.
This is the fifth case to be launched by Serbia’s special prosecutor over attacks in Zvornik, where some of the most brutal crimes of the 1992-95 Bosnian war were committed.
After Zvornik, a town on the River Drina close to the border with Serbia, was seized in May 1992, Arkan’s Tigers, another Serb paramilitary unit, expelled most of the non-Serb population.
Arkan’s Tigers are alleged to have cooperated closely with the paramilitaries of Vojislav Seselj, the leader of the Serbian Radical Party who is facing trial for war crimes in The Hague. The two paramilitary groups went on to attack numerous towns in Bosnia and Croatia with the help of the Yugoslav Army.
It remains unclear under whose command Sima’s Chetniks acted, since some of the trial witnesses claimed that they received orders from the headquarters of the Serbian Radical Party.
Seselj, however, has denied that he had any control over units in Zvornik, accusing Arkan (Zeljko Raznatovic), who died in a gangland shooting in 2000, of having command responsibility.