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Monday, 8 July, 2002, 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
Serbia jails first war criminal
Nikolic is led to the court by Serbian police officers
Nikolic condemned proceedings as a "political trial"
A former Yugoslav soldier has been sentenced to eight years in prison for war crimes committed during the Kosovo war, in the first trial of its kind to be held in a Serbian court.

He is guilty of breaking international rules of war by killing two ethnic Albanian civilians

Judge Dragan Tacic
Ivan Nikolic, 30, was convicted over the killing of two Kosovo Albanians in 1999 in a village located between the northern Kosovo town of Podujevo and the capital Pristina.

He had previously been charged with murder, but the court in the southern Serbian town of Prokuplje upgraded the indictment to war crimes in April.

Nikolic was found guilty of "breaking international rules of war by killing two ethnic Albanian civilians, committing war crimes against the civilian population," said judge Dragan Tacic, delivering the sentence.

The maximum sentence for war crimes under Serbian law is 40 years imprisonment.

Nikolic had pleaded not guilty to the charges, and branded the proceedings a "political trial".

His lawyer argued that the evidence showed several people had fired at the two Albanians, and that there was no firm proof that his client had been responsible for their deaths.

The trial has been seen by observers as a step forward by Serbia in proving its readiness to act against those suspected of committing war crimes during the Kosovo conflict of 1998 to 1999.

Aiming to please

Correspondents say Belgrade hopes that trying some suspects at home will lessen international pressure to hand people over to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Slobodan Milosevic
There are mixed feelings about Mr Milosevic's trial
Belgrade needs financial aid from the West, but benefactors have made this conditional on suspects being brought to justice.

Earlier this year, the government extradited several prominent Serb suspects to The Hague, where former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic is currently on trial.

Trying suspects at home may also please those Serbians who, while not opposed to war crimes trials, are unhappy for this to be carried out abroad.

There has been clear opposition to Mr Milosevic's trial, even among his enemies. Many feel it seriously undermines Serbian sovereignty.

String of charges

Prosecutors in Prokuplje have also brought war crimes charges against two men, both former reservists of the Yugoslav army, for the murder of 19 Kosovo Albanians in March 1999.

They are due to be tried by the same court later this month.

During the conflict in Kosovo, a Serbian province where many want independence, around 800,000 Albanians were expelled from their homes and hundreds killed.

Mr Milosevic is standing trial on war crimes charges relating not just to Kosovo, but also atrocities carried out during conflicts in the former Yugoslav states of Bosnia and Croatia.

Nato-led peacekeepers have been hunting war crimes suspects in Bosnia, and on Sunday arrested a former Bosnian Serb official on charges of crimes against humanity.

Miroslav Deronjic is accused of involvement in the killing of 60 Muslim civilians in the Bratunac area in May 1992 during an attack on their village. He is due to be transported to The Hague shortly.

Key stories

Srebrenica massacre



See also:

19 Jun 02 | Europe
21 May 02 | Europe
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