[As if the International Court were unbiased]


April 24, 1997

Muslims sentenced in ``farce'' trial in Serb court

By Sabina Cosic

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina - A Bosnian Serb court sentenced three Muslims to 20 years in jail Thursday after a murder trial which the international community labeled a ``travesty'' and ``farce.''

The court in Zvornik sentenced four other Muslims to one year each for illegal possession of firearms. All seven were arrested in connection with the murder of four Serbs and had surrendered voluntarily to U.S. troops.

The Serb court denied the Muslim defendants the right to be represented by lawyers from the Muslim-Croat federation and appointed Serb attorneys who were given just five minutes to present their defense.

But the court stopped short of passing the death penalties the prosecution had requested.

``(The Bosnian Serb republic) is one of the signatories of the Dayton agreement and, under Dayton documents, the death penalty is not allowed,'' presiding Judge Petar Stjepanovic said.

The group of seven Muslims claimed to be survivors of wartime massacres in the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica.

They said they had hidden in caves and forests since the enclave fell to Serbs in July 1995.

The men, first spotted by U.S. NATO troops while moving on foot in the forest, surrendered to U.S. soldiers voluntarily.

They were questioned and handed over to the Serb police because they were found in possession of some grenades and pistols, making them technically an armed group in violation of the Dayton peace agreement.

But subsequent reports indicated the Muslims should have been kept in U.S. military custody until it could be established whether, as survivors of the Serb conquest of Srebrenica, they had violated the accord.

The trial failed to produce conclusive evidence to prove the defendants were guilty of the crimes they were charged with, a U.N. spokesman said.

A spokesman for the international high representative to Bosnia, Carl Bildt, said efforts to put pressure on Serb authorities, already widely condemned for their poor human rights record, would continue.