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COURTSIDE: Foca Prison Trial

Prison warden with "head in the sand" gets seven and a half years
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Milorad Krnojelac was sentenced last week to seven and a half years in jail for his role in the illegal detention that led to ethnic cleansing of the non-Serb population in Foca, south-east Bosnia.


Pronouncing judgment on the former Foca prison warden, found guilty on four of 12 counts, Judge David Hunt of Australia said the accused "chose to bury his head in the sand and to ignore the responsibilities and the powers which he had as a warden of a prison in respect of improvement of the situation of the non-Serb detainees".


Krnojelac was found guilty of illegal detention, inhumane conditions in the prison and two cases of beatings by his subordinate guards. He was acquitted over the murders of detainees, after the court concluded he had no reason to know of those crimes or control the soldiers who committed them.


By agreeing to act as prison warden from April 1992 to July 1993, the former mathematics teacher aided and abetted the municipal Serb authorities and the army in their plan to illegally detain hundreds of Bosniak men, following Foca's fall to the Serbs in April 1992, the court concluded.


As he was aware of the prisoners' constant fear of torture and death, the freezing temperatures, deplorable sanitary conditions and insufficient rations and by doing nothing even after some detainees died from lack of care, the court said he encouraged and helped the principal offenders - the guards or military authorities in Foca.


The judges ruled that the illegal detention and inhumane conditions under which prisoners were held represented the crime of persecution on religious or political grounds.


But Krnojelac was acquitted of murder and enslavement as the court was not satisfied the detainees' forced labour case constituted enslavement. They said his participation in crimes was limited to aiding and abetting the crimes of others, largely through inaction and a failure to exercise his powers.


The judge said the sentence would make it clear to others who also tried to avoid the command responsibilities implied by the posts they once held, that failure to accept those responsibilities would still be punished.


This judgement confirmed the tribunal practice of jailing former wardens or camp commanders who did not personally order or commit crimes to between seven and 10 years, as in the cases of senior officials in the Kaonik, Celebici and Omarska camps.


The three years and nine months he has already spent in tribunal custody will be deducted from the total. It was not clear whether the accused or the prosecution intend to lodge an appeal. Krnojelac's expression after he heard the verdict initially suggested disappointment and a possible appeal. But he then waved to the gallery and smiled before leaving the bench.


It was not clear if this salutation was directed to a particular person, or to the whole gathering who observed the event from the other side of the glass.


Vjera Bogati is an IWPR special correspondent at The Hague and a journalist with SENSE News Agency.


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