THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Bosnian Serb cousins Milan and Sredoje Lukic were convicted by the Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal on Monday of burning dozens of Bosnian Muslims alive in the country’s 1992-1995 war.
Milan Lukic, 41, who prosecutors said led a Serb paramilitary group known as the “White Eagles” or “Avengers,” was sentenced by the tribunal in The Hague to life in prison for killing at least 119 Bosnians in two incidents in June 1992.
Sredoje Lukic, 48, who prosecutors said was also a member of the unit, was given 30 years imprisonment. The court ruled it had not been proved that he was present at one of the attacks.
Both men had pleaded not guilty to all charges and said they were not present in the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad at the time of the crimes. Defense lawyers had requested acquittals.
“The perpetration by Milan Lukic and Sredoje Lukic of crimes in this case is characterized by a callous and vicious disregard for human life,” Judge Patrick Robinson said.
The court found about 59 Bosnian Muslims were burned alive in a house set ablaze with an accelerant and an explosive, while at least 60 people died after being barricaded inside another home before grenades were thrown into the building.
Judge Robinson said the court found Milan Lukic guilty of both incidents, adding he played a dominant role in the attacks in that he personally closed the door of one of the houses, set them on fire and shot at people who tried to escape.
The court found Sredoje Lukic was not present at the second incident, but his presence at the first “substantially contributed to the deaths” despite the fact he did not set fire to the house or shoot at the victims.
Bakira Hasecic, president of support group ‘Women-Victims of War’, said she hoped both men would be tried by Bosnia’s own war crimes court for rapes and torture for which they were not indicted in The Hague.
“They only concentrated on the gravest crimes but it is only 5 percent of all the crimes they committed,” said Hasecic, herself a rape victim during the war.
Milan Lukic was convicted on 21 counts of crimes against humanity and violations of laws or customs of war, including murder, inhumane acts, cruel treatment and extermination. Sredoje was convicted on seven counts.
Milan Lukic was also convicted of shooting and killing 12 Bosnian Muslim men on the bank of the River Drina.
After seven years on the run, he was arrested in Argentina in August 2005. Sredoje surrendered to Bosnian Serb authorities the following month. Their trial started in July last year.
(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)