Bosnia: Man sentenced to 45 years for war crimes

In this screen grab taken from video, provided by the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ve...

Fri Mar 29, 3:06 PM UTC

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — A court in Bosnia on Friday convicted a Montenegrin man of multiple counts of murder, torture, rape and looting during Bosnia's 1992-95 war, and sentenced him to 45 years in prison — the highest sentence ever issued in the country.

Judge Zoran Bozic said that Veselin Vlahovic, killed 31 people, raped a number of Bosniak and Croat women and tortured and robbed non-Serb residents of a Sarajevo suburb while fighting for the Bosnian Serbs. Among other crimes, the judge described how Vlahovic cut the throats of two brothers in front of their mother, then killed her and raped the men's wives.

"We are happy with the maximum sentence," said Boris Grubisic, the spokesman for the Prosecutor's office.

He said that during the trial some of the 112 witnesses described the rape of heavily pregnant women and mothers being raped in front of their children. Grubisic said that Vlahovic committed the crimes over several months. Although he received the maximum sentence, the prosecution still plans to appeal because he was acquitted on six counts.

Vlahovic's layer Radivoje Lazarevic said he also will appeal the sentence because he believes that some of the 60 counts on which Vlahovic was convicted were not proven.

Vlahovic, 43, showed no reaction when the judge pronounced the verdict.

In 1992, when Bosnian Serb forces laid siege to Sarajevo, they mistreated non-Serb residents of the areas that they controlled. Vlahovic was the commander of a paramilitary unit that went from house to house looking for Muslims and Catholics, then looted their homes, tortured and often killed entire families.

Edina Kamenica, a Muslim woman who lived in one of the Serb-held neighborhoods, followed the trial carefully. She said Vlahovic — known as "the monster from Grbavica" — came to her door.

"He asked if there were any Turks inside and if I had answered 'yes' I would have be alive," she said.

During the war Serbs often referred to Muslim Bosnians as Turks because of their hatred of the Turkish-Ottoman empire that ruled over the Balkan peninsula for 500 years.

Bakira Hasecic, the head of an association of victims of wartime rape, said the sentence was the best satisfaction that so far came from Bosnia's war crimes court, but added that Vlahovic was such a monster that even the maximum sentence was not enough for him.

Vlahovic fled to neighboring Serbia and Montenegro after the war. He was jailed in Montenegro for armed robbery but escaped from prison. Spanish police then found him in 2010 living in the town of Altea. He was extradited to Bosnia the same year although he is also wanted in Spain for robbery and assault with a firearm.