By Thomas Escritt
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The man convicted of some of the cruelest war crimes committed during the break-up of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s had his life sentence upheld by an appeals court in The Hague on Tuesday.
Serbian paramilitary leader Milan Lukic is most notorious for barricading 70 Muslim men, women and children in a house before setting it on fire, in what became known as the Pionirska Street massacre. He then shot anyone who tried to escape.
Lukic had launched 11 appeals against his conviction for that crime and other atrocities, saying he had alibis and witnesses had falsely identified him.
But the court rejected almost all his case, making only small changes to the charges, and confirmed his conviction would stand.
Lukic, wearing a dark blue suit, sat slouched in his chair as presiding judge Mehmet Guney read the judgment. He leafed through what appeared to be a bible bound in red leather with a prominent cross on its cover and smiled faintly when his life sentence was upheld.
Lukic led the ethnic Serb paramilitary group the White Eagles which rounded up seven Muslim men at the factory where they worked during the conflict and shot them on the banks of the Drina river.
Judges also upheld the bulk of the convictions against Lukic's co-accused, his cousin Sredoje, reducing to 27 years his original 30-year sentence.
Milan Lukic is one of only four people to have been sentenced to life by the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which has indicted 161 people involved in the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
At his initial conviction in 2009, judges said Lukic had shown "a callous and vicious disregard for human life" and personally killed more than 100 Muslims.
(Reporting By Thomas Escritt; Editing by Andrew Heavens)