Sentence for ex-Bosnian officer overturned

AP News
Posted: Oct 11, 2010 2:41 PM
Sentence for ex-Bosnian officer overturned

An appeals court on Monday overturned a war crimes conviction and a 12-year prison sentence for a former Bosnian security officer whose case has strained postwar relations between Serbia and Bosnia.

The Belgrade Appeals Court ordered a retrial and released Ilija Jurisic from detention. It said that the previous proceedings provided insufficient evidence, and that the new trial will result in a "clear, legitimate and legally perfect verdict."

The ruling likely will ease the tensions between Belgrade and Sarajevo triggered by the case. Bosnian authorities have strongly protested Jurisic's 2007 arrest at the Belgrade airport, as well as his trial in Serbia.

Serbian prosecutors have accused Jurisic of responsibility in an attack against a Serb-led army convoy consisting of dozens of army trucks carrying some 100 soldiers withdrawing from the predominantly Muslim Bosnian town of Tuzla in May 1992.

The charges alleged that the Bosnian troops first killed the truck drivers with sniper fire and then fired mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at the stopped vehicles. At least 50 soldiers were killed and 44 injured in the clash.

Bosnian authorities have maintained that the Yugoslav soldiers fired first during the pullout arranged between Belgrade and Sarajevo. They said the Bosnian troops acted in self-defense in one of the bloodiest clashes during the opening days of the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

Jurisic had maintained his innocence during the trial.

His lawyer Djordje Dozet hailed Monday's ruling, saying he was pleased that Jurisic has been released, but that he should have been acquitted.

"An important step has been made," he said.

Later Monday, Jurisic returned to Tuzla, where he was greeted by several hundred people. "I feel reborn," he told them.

The prosecutor's office said it is ready for the retrial. "We are still waiting to find out who was responsible for the death of those soldiers," spokesman Bruno Vekaric told the AP.

The date for the retrial was not immediately set.

The war in Bosnia started after the country's Muslims and Croats voted to split from Serb-led Yugoslavia, triggering a rebellion by Bosnian Serbs. The conflict _ which saw Europe's worst bloodshed since World War II _ lasted until a U.S.-brokered peace deal was signed in 1995.