Serb general gets 33 years' jail for role in siege of Sarajevo

Author: Ian Traynor
Uploaded: Saturday, 29 December, 2007

Report by The Guardian's Europe editor on the sentence passed by the ICTY on a Bosnian Serb general for his role in the siege of Sarajevo. The report notes in particular the tribunal's clear rejection of the propaganda canard that the Sarajevo market massacre of August 1995 was committed by the defenders of the city themselves.

A Serbian commander of the forces that staged the longest siege of a European city in modern times was sentenced to 33 years in jail yesterday for murder, inhumanity, and the calculated terrorising of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

The international tribunal at The Hague jailed Dragomir Milosevic, a former Bosnian Serb general, for his role in commanding the three-and-a-half year siege of Sarajevo, which left about 10,000 people dead from shelling and sniper attacks.

The 65-year-old stood impassively as the judge, Patrick Robinson, delivered the guilty verdict. Milosevic had pleaded not guilty after surrending to the tribunal in 2004, six years after he was indicted.

‘The accused ordered and planned the shelling and sniping of the civilian population ... in Sarajevo, with the intent to spread terror among that population,’ the court found. ‘The civilian population in Sarajevo was virtually completely encircled ... [they were] trapped.’

Milosevic, a former Yugoslav army career officer, took over the command of the 18,000-strong Bosnian Serb forces besieging Sarajevo in 1994. His predecessor, Stanislav Galic, is already serving life imprisonment for his role in the siege, which began in April 1992. The court found Milosevic was responsible for some of the worst carnage visited on the city, including the innovation of modified air bombs. His snipers took advantage of ceasefires to direct their weapons at public transport running during the truces.

The trial also resolved one of the biggest controversies of the Bosnian war, finding the Serbs responsible for the Sarajevo market massacre of August 1995 which left more than 40 dead and dozens wounded. For years Serbian propaganda, and diplomats, claimed the market massacre was staged by Sarajevo's mainly Muslim Bosnian defenders to win international sympathy and stigmatise the Serbs. The court ruled that the Serbs and Milosevic (not related to the late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic) carried out the atrocity.

The trial heard harrowing evidence from many siege victims who spent years in the city terrified of going out. TV film of life under the siege sparked public outrage internationally and put pressure on other nations to end the war. The trial heard evidence from General Rupert Smith, commander of UN forces in Bosnia, who said attacks on civilian areas in Sarajevo were ‘essentially to terrorise, to wear down the resolve of the defender, to hold the presence of the Serb pressure evidently in the minds of people on a daily basis’.

Judge Robinson described Sarajevans risking a tram ride in the city as ‘sitting ducks’ for the snipers.

The panel of three judges found that during Milosevic's command ‘the shelling was indiscriminate and aimed at causing the maximum amount of casualties’.

This report appeared in The Guardian (London), 13 December 2007. The author is the paper’s Europe editor.

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