Swedish court jails Serb over Kosovo war crimes

A Swedish court on Friday sentenced a Serbian man to life behind bars for war crimes in connection with his role in a massacre of 40 people in the village of Cuske in Kosovo in 1999.

Milic Martinovic, a 34-year-old Serb arrested in Sweden in April 2010, was found guilty of aggravated crimes against humanity, including murder, attempted murder and aggravated arson, in connection with the massacre, the Stockholm District Court said.

“Anything less than life imprisonment is out of the question,” the court said in a statement.

People serving life sentences in Sweden have in recent years spent an average of around 21 years behind bars.

Once he has served his time, Martinovic will be expelled from Sweden and banned from ever returning, the court said, adding that he had also been ordered to pay damages of between 150,000 and 200,000 kronor ($22,000-30,000) to 10 of the 14 plaintiffs in the case.

Martinovic had been a member of the special PJP police force that entered Cuska on May 14th, 1999 in search of “terrorists.”

Armed and in uniform, he was among the troops who took a large number of people captive, killed 29 of the 40 people murdered there that day, attempted to kill three others, burned down houses and manhandled civilians, the court said.

“The accused is through his actions also guilty of serious violations of the Geneva Convention and common law,” it said.

While court documents do not show that Martinovic personally pulled the trigger, they describe for instance how he repeatedly stood guard as his comrades shot and killed civilians and how he fired at the ground and forced residents to hand over gold and other valuables.

“Milic Martinovic participated in the operation with the understanding that the aim was to murder and rob civilian Kosovo Albanians,” according to the court documents.

Prosecutor Lars Hedvall told the TT news agency he was “pleased that the court has largely followed my views.”

Defence attorney Bertil Schultz was however critical of the verdict, insisting the evidence in the case was weak, and said he expected his client to appeal.

The 1998-1999 conflict left around 13,000 dead and forced hundreds of thousands to flee Kosovo for several European countries. Most of the victims were ethnic Albanians.

The war between Serbian security forces and separatist ethnic Albanians in the southern Serbian province was brought to an abrupt end in mid-1999 when an 11-week NATO bombing campaign ousted the Belgrade-controlled forces.

Kosovo declared independence in February 2008, which many countries have recognised but not Serbia.

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