Bosnia's 'Monster of Grbavica' gets 45 years for war crimes

SARAJEVO (AFP) - Veselin Vlahovic, a former Bosnian Serb paramilitary dubbed the "Monster of Grbavica", was jailed on Friday for 45 years for inflicting a reign of terror on Sarajevo civilians during the 1992-95 war.

"During systematic repression against the non-Serb population he participated in expulsion of his victims, he committed murders, he tortured, raped and imprisoned his victims," judge Zoran Bozic said at the sentencing in a packed Sarajevo courtroom.

The sentence against Vlahovic, a Montenegrin, is the most severe delivered for war crimes by a Bosnian court.

Dressed in light blue shirt, Vlahovic, 43, showed no reaction when the verdict was read out, drawing applause from members of victims' associations in the heavily guarded courtroom.

"The prosecution is satisfied with the maximum penalty," spokesman Boris Grubesic told reporters later.

"The prosecution knows that the number of Vlahovic's crimes is much greater, but those crimes could not have been included in the indictment due to lack of credible witnesses," Grubesic added.

Vlahovic's lawyer, Mr Radivoje Lazarevic, said: "If the verdict brings satisfaction ... notably to victims, I am content with it as a human being."

But he added: "As the defence of the accused... we will lodge an appeal and contest a number of charges that we believe have not been proved."

Vlahovic, sentenced on all 60 counts in his indictment, committed the crimes between May and July 1992 in three Sarajevo neighbourhoods controlled by Serb forces during the war - Grbavica, Kovacici and Vraca.

Most of the atrocities occurred in Grbavica.

"He killed 31 people, took 14 people who have still been considered missing, raped 13 women," prosecutor Behaija Krnjic said in a closing statement, having said earlier in the trial that Vlahovic's "name was the synonym for evil".

Vlahovic, who had pleaded not guilty at the start of the trial in April 2011, was charged with the "executions, enslavement, rape, physical and psychological torture" of Muslim and Croat civilians, as well as looting, according to the indictment.

Calling for Vlahovic to be jailed for 45 years, prosecutor Krnjic said: "Such a sentence would be the most just, but even that one will still be insufficient to heal the suffering of the victims."

A total of 112 prosecution witnesses were heard at the trial, including a number of women who testified behind closed doors to having been raped by Vlahovic, according to prosecutor Krnjic.

"Vlahovic was not even bothered with the fact that one of his victims was highly pregnant at the time of the rape," the prosecutor said.

Ms Bakira Hasecic, head of a Bosnian rape victims' association, also expressed satisfaction with the sentence.

"For us victims, this is like a death penalty, which does not exist in Bosnia. Considering his age he will not get out of prison alive or he will not live long after getting out," she said.

During the trial, Vlahovic insulted a witness, a local journalist who reported on his crimes during the war. He also sent an intimidating letter to the family of a victim, the prosecution said.

Vlahovic was arrested in March 2010 as a suspect in a number of burglaries in the Spanish town of Altea where he was living under a fake Bulgarian identity. He was extradited to Bosnia in August that year.

Previously the court's most severe sentence was 43 years for Bosnian Serb Stanko Kojic over his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys.

Bosnia's war claimed some 100,000 lives and created two million refugees, almost half of the country's pre-war population.

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