Six Croats Exonerated of War Crimes
ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ A local court found insufficient evidence today to convict six former Croat soldiers of wartime atrocities against rebel Serbs.
The trial was the first in which Croats, who largely view themselves as the sole victims of Serb aggression during Croatia’s 1991-92 war, set out to try their own for crimes perpetrated against minority Serbs.
Judge Ratko Scekic found defendants Miroslav Bajramovic and Branko Saric-Kosa guilty of lesser crimes of extortion and abduction. The remaining four soldiers _ Munib Suljic, Sinisa Rimac, Zoran Karlovic and Igor Mikola _ were acquitted of all charges.
All six defendants had faced charges of extortion, abduction, attempted murder and murder in the deaths of at least 14 ethnic Serbs during Croatia’s war with rebel minority Serbs.
The six were allegedly among a group involved in the deaths of up to 100 ethnic Serbs, many of whom were allegedly tortured, in the area of Pakrac, 70 miles southeast of Zagreb, the capital.
More than 10,000 Croats died in the struggle against local Serbs, backed by Yugoslav army troops, in their country’s secession from the old Yugoslav federation.
Scekic told the county court there wasn’t enough evidence to convict the men in the shooting death of Aleksandra Antic-Sasa and at least 13 others, whose bodies were exhumed from a mass grave.
The judge said witness testimonies often were contradictory or not concrete enough to warrant a guilty verdict.
The prosecution pursued the case against the six men following an interview Bajramovic gave to the weekly Feral Tribune in September 1997 in which he admitted to torturing and killing 72 people and being responsible for 14 more deaths in Pakracka Poljana and Gospic, 110 miles south of Zagreb.
Bajramovic was convicted of breaking into the house of Stevan Brajenovic, an ethnic Serb, and extorting from him _ at gunpoint _ a rifle, personal documents, a car and the equivalent of about $7000 in cash.
Bajramovic abducted Brajenovic and took him to Pakrac, where he was held captive for four days by Saric-Kosa, a Croat commander during the six-month war.
There he was tortured and wounded by guards under Saric-Kosa. Bajramovic was sentenced to one year and eight months in prison but was released because he already served that period in pretrial custody. Saric-Kosa was sentenced to one year in prison, of which he has eight months left to serve.