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Bosnian Serb convicted of genocide by German court

September 26, 1997

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) _ A Bosnian Serb accused of beating a prisoner to death with a wood plank, ordering executions and committing other crimes against Muslims was convicted Friday of genocide and sentenced to life in prison.

Nikola Jorgic, 51, showed no emotion as the court declared him guilty of 11 counts of genocide, 30 counts of murder and numerous lesser charges for crimes committed during the Bosnian war.

Judge Guenter Krentz called Jorgic’s crimes ``especially onerous″ and sentenced him to life in prison, as prosecutors had asked.

It was the first genocide verdict in Germany. The international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, had asked Germany to handle the cases of Jorgic and another Bosnian Serb since its own docket was overloaded and the men were arrested in Germany.

The judge said Jorgic was actively involved in Bosnian Serbs’ efforts to exterminate and expel Bosnian Muslims from their homes in 1992, as war was breaking out in the former Yugoslav republic.

``Whoever hoped ... something like the genocide of the Nazis against the Jews could never be repeated sees himself cruelly disappointed after the events in the former Yugoslavia,″ Krentz said.

Throughout the trial, Jorgic maintained his innocence, claiming he was a victim of mistaken identity.

Jorgic, who worked in West Germany’s Ruhr Valley as a locksmith from 1969 until early 1992, claimed he was in prison from May to August 1992 in the Bosnian town of Doboj, near his native village of Kostajnica.

But testimony of more than 30 witnesses proved Jorgic was involved in the crimes, including the June 1992 massacre of 22 Muslims in the village of Grapska, the court ruled.

The judge said Jorgic, who headed a group of radical-nationalist Bosnian Serbs, fired his automatic pistol at random into a group of unarmed Muslims in the village.

He also was convicted of ordering the execution of seven Muslims in the village of Sevarlije later that summer. The court also found that in September 1992 he fatally injured a Muslim prisoner by placing a metal bucket over his head and pounding on it with a wooden plank.

Jorgic had questioned the jurisdiction of a German court for a non-German who allegedly committed crimes against non-Germans on non-German territory.

His was the second such trial in Germany this year. Another Bosnian Serb, Novislav Djajic, was convicted May 24 by a Munich court of being an accessory to murder and sentenced to five years in prison.

The cases represent Germany’s first war crimes trials under international auspices since the Nuremberg trials of top Nazis in 1945. German courts have tried and convicted various Nazi war criminals, but this was the first case resulting in a genocide conviction.

Despite Jorgic’s conviction, a U.N. war crimes prosecutor Friday lashed out at NATO and authorities in Yugoslavia for failing to do more to bring war criminals to justice. NATO leads a 30,000-strong peace force in Bosnia.

Louise Arbour, a tribunal prosecutor, told reporters in Sarajevo she believes it is ``scandalous″ that the No. 1 war crimes suspect, Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic, is still at large, controlling Bosnian Serb hard-line leaders from behind the scenes.

The 1995 Dayton peace accord obliges leaders of all three nations that were involved in the 3 1/2-year Bosnian war to surrender suspects indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.