World Bulletin / News Desk
UN war crimes judges on Monday open the appeal hearings for former Bosnian Croat leader Jadranko Prlic and five others in one of the court's "largest and most complicated cases."
Prlic was sentenced by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 2013 to over two decades in jail on charges of murdering and deporting Muslims during Bosnia's 1992-1995 war.
Five other Bosnian Croat military and political leaders were also handed heavy prison terms by the tribunal based in The Hague after being found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
All six are now appealing against the convictions rendered for their roles in the conflict which was part of the greater Balkans wars that broke out in the 1990s amid the disintegration of Yugoslavia.
The Bosnian war left 100,000 people dead and 2.2 million were displaced.
Judges at sentencing said Prlic, now 57, "made a significant contribution to a joint criminal enterprise and to a criminal purpose to drive out the Muslim population," from Bosnia in a bid to create a "greater Croatian state."
Prlic was sentenced to 25 years behind bars, while his five accomplices were handed between 20 and 10 years in prison.
His co-defendants are his former defence minister Bruno Stojic, and four senior military officials: Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petkovic, Valentin Coric, and Berislav Pusic.
"The Prlic et al. trial was one of the tribunal's largest and most complicated," the ICTY said in a statement, adding a total of 326 witnesses had appeared during the course of the case.
At the end, the ICTY's judges ruled the six defendants removed Muslims and other non-Croats by force, intimidation and terror "by conducting mass arrests of Bosnian Muslims who were then either murdered, beaten, sexually assaulted, robbed of their property and otherwise abused".
It included the nine-month siege of the southern city of Mostar from June 1993 by Bosnian Croat troops, which saw the destruction of its historical four-century-old bridge, an act which the court said caused "disproportionate damage for the Muslim civilian population of Mostar."
"Muslims were woken up in the middle of the night, beaten and forced to leave their apartments, often still in their pyjamas," presiding judge Jean-Claude Antonetti said at sentencing in 2013.
Bosnian Croats and Muslims were allies against Bosnian Serbs during most of the country's 1992-1995 war.
However, they also fought against each other for 17 months in 1993 and 1994 in southern and central Bosnia.
As early as December 1991, Croatia's late ultra-nationalist president Franjo Tudjman and other Croat leaders realised that "in order to achieve the ultimate goal of a Croatian territory it was necessary to modify its ethnic composition," said Antonetti in the 2013 ruling.
The self-proclaimed Croatian entity of Herceg-Bosna was proclaimed in August 1993, but dissolved in 1995 just before the Dayton peace accords.
The territory was integrated with the Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska into Bosnia-Hercegovina.
A verdict in the appeal is due in November 2017, in what will be one of the ICTY's last judgements as it winds down more than 20 years after it opened. Sentence is also due to be passed around the same time in the case of former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic.
Since mid-October, Peshmerga have withdrawn from vast majority of ‘disputed’ parts of Iraq, Kurdish official says
Nearly 63 percent of 2,000 American participants oppose moving US Embassy to Jerusalem, survey indicates
Tensions continue to mount in occupied territories following US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
Defeat leaves Republicans with razor thin 51-49 majority in Senate
President Donald Trump has not changed his position on North Korea but does not oppose efforts to initiate talks
'Trump you failed to protect your nation,' Akayed Ullah allegedly wrote on Facebook
Vast areas have been destroyed, hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated and thousands of firefighters are working around the clock.
Trade dispute ends Boeing’s CAN$19 billion bid to replace aging CF-18s fighters
One third of those detained are minors, Palestinian activists say
ISIL has recently suffered a string of defeats in Iraq and Syria
Turkish deputy premier says some leading Greek Cypriots say they would prefer to 'drink poison' than use Turkish water
'I want to shoot a movie in Jerusalem when it is liberated,' says Nawras Abu Saleh
After meeting in Ottawa with officials from the nation's 10 provinces and three territories, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said he has agreed to give the provinces 75 percent of the monies.
Maduro's ruling socialists triumphed as expected in mayoral polls Sunday, taking 300 of the country's 335 mayorships after a boycott by the main opposition parties.
US president revises space agency’s policy, undoing Obama’s concentration on Mars
US-led global coalition will continue to operate and support local forces in Syria, Pentagon spokesman says