Four former top Yugoslav officials asked the Hague Tribunal for acquittal, saying they defended their county from NATO attacks but did not murder and deport Kosovo Albanians.
At their appeal on Friday, Nikola Sainovic, Nebojsa Pavkovic, Vladimir Lazarevic and Sreten Lukic all declared they were not guilty of war crimes against ethnic Albanians during the conflict in Kosovo in 1999 and asked the Hague court to free them.
In 2009, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia convicted all four men of the deportation, murder and persecution on political, racial or religious grounds of Albanians from Kosovo, sentencing them to a total of 81 years in prison.
Former Yugoslav deputy prime minister Nikola Sainovic said he worked in government before and during the Kosovo war, but that this didn’t mean that he initiated or committed war crimes.
“I just served my state as requested,” said Sainovic, adding that it was not fair that only one side in the Kosovo conflict was being held responsible for war crimes.
Former Yugoslav army general Nebojsa Pavkovic also said that he only performed his military duties.
“I built my career long before [former leader Slobodan] Milosevic [came to power] and during my military service I did not receive orders either from him or Sainovic or army general Momcilo Perisic,” said Pavkovic.
“I acted on my own, according to procedure, and fought against the Kosovo Liberation Army as an illegal terrorist organisation,” he said.
The commander of the Yugoslav Army’s Pristina corps Vladimir Lazarevic insisted that he only defended his country from NATO bombing.
He said that NATO’s “aggression” and Kosovo Liberation Army “terrorists” forced the mass exodus of Albanians from Kosovo.
The former head of the Serbian interior ministry’s staff for Kosovo and Metohija, Sreten Lukic, said that he was not aware of any of the crimes that took place, and denied he was a part of joint criminal enterprise with Milosevic.
“Everybody knows I was not part of that. Milosevic and I never got along and all I got from him was degradation,” Lukic said.
“That is why, when he stepped down as president, the new democratic government installed me as an interior ministry official,” he added.
The prosecution meanwhile requested life sentences for all the defendants, arguing that 2009 verdict was not adequate considering “the gravity of the crime”.
In its initial verdict, the trial chamber found that “there was a broad campaign of violence directed against the Kosovo Albanian civilian population conducted by forces under the control of the [Yugoslav] and Serbian authorities, during which there were incidents of killing, sexual assault, and the intentional destruction of mosques".
The verdict also said that “it was the deliberate actions of these forces during this campaign that caused the departure of at least 700,000 Kosovo Albanians from Kosovo in the short period of time between the end of March and beginning of June 1999”.
The date for the appeal verdict is yet to be set.