Serb officer not guilty of Vukovar massacre: ex-general

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A former general told an international crimes court for the former Yugoslavia that a Serb officer who had his sentence tripled on appeal over a 1991 massacre was not guilty of murder.

Miodrag Panic told the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia that Veselin Sljivancanin, whose sentence was extended to 17 years last year, had no hand in the slaying of 194 prisoners of war.

He said Sljivancanin had not received any orders to evacuate the soldiers charged with protecting the prisoners in a Croat hospital in Vukovar, from where they were later taken and murdered.

"I was present when there was a conversation" between Sljivancanin and his superior and co-accused Mile Mrksic, Panic said.

"It is impossible that Mrksic could have given this information to Sljivancanin without passing it on to me then, or before or afterwards," he said.

"I would have been the first to react," he added.

Mrksic, a colonel, has been sentenced to 20 years in jail for murder, torture and inhuman treatment.

The Vukovar massacre was one of the worst incidents of the war linked to the break-up of the erstwhile Yugoslavia.

After a referendum, Croatia declared independence in June 1991 and the Serb minority living in the country started an armed insurrection against the new nationalist Croatian authorities.

The Yugoslav army intervened on the side of the Serbs and the conflict escalated.

The Yugoslav army took control of Vukovar and ringed the hospital where several hundreds Croats and other non-Serbs had sought refuge in the last days of the siege thinking they would be given safe passage.

Although this had been agreed in talks between the Yugoslav army and the Croatian authorities in the capital Zagreb, about 300 men were loaded on to buses on November 20, taken to a nearby farm and beaten.

A total of 194 of them were then killed by paramilitary forces and Serb self-defence groups.

Sljivancanin, 56, was sentenced to five years in prison on September 27, 2007 over the massacre before it was tripled on appeal.

© 2010 AFP

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