THE HAGUE — The Yugoslav war-crimes tribunal sentenced the former chief of the Yugoslav army to 27 years imprisonment Tuesday for providing crucial military aid to Bosnian Serb forces responsible for the Srebrenica massacre and for a deadly four-year campaign of shelling and sniping in Sarajevo.
The case against Gen. Momcilo Perisic was the first time the U.N. court convicted a civilian or military officer from Yugoslavia of war crimes in Bosnia. It also underscored the Yugoslav army’s far-reaching support for Serb rebels in both Bosnia and Croatia who committed the worst atrocities of the Balkan conflicts in the early 1990s.
The link between the disintegrating Yugoslav federation and Serb forces in the breakaway republics has been a matter of dispute and was the keystone of the trial in The Hague of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. But that trial ended without a conclusion when Milosevic died in his cell in 2006 of a heart attack.
Perisic is a former Milosevic ally who remained Serbia’s military chief until 2008 - three years after the Bosnian and Croatian wars ended. He turned against the dictator after the Bosnian war and warned Milosevic’s regime against fomenting conflict in Kosovo, where fighting erupted after he left his post.
The U.N. judges convicted Perisic on charges of providing officers, troops, ammunition and logistical support to the rebel Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia, but acquitted him on allegations that he was directly responsible as a superior officer to the Bosnian Serbs commanded by Gen. Ratko Mladic.
Presiding Judge Bakone Moloto said evidence reflected Perisic’s “inability to impose binding orders on Gen. Mladic … who maintained a measure of independence throughout the war.”
Mladic was caught and transferred in May to The Hague for trial after 16 years as one of the tribunal’s most wanted fugitives. He faces genocide charges for allegedly masterminding ethnic cleansing campaigns and the massacre in 2005 of 8,000 Muslim men in the U.N.-protected Srebrenica enclave, Europe’s worst massacre since World War II.
The judges said Perisic “knew that it was highly probable” Bosnian Serbs would kill, abuse and expel Bosnian Muslims after seizing control of Srebrenica, but that he could not “reasonably have foreseen” the extent of the massacre and acquitted him of aiding and abetting extermination in the enclave.