Thursday, January 13, 2005


BELGRADE, January 13 - Serbia's Supreme Court has overturned a war crime sentence on Sasa Cvjetan, former member of Serbia's notorious Scorpions "anti-terrorist" police unit, considered responsible for the March 1999 massacre of 14 civilians, mostly women and children, in Podujevo, Kosovo.

Cvjetan was sentenced to 20 years in jail, the heaviest punishment applied in Serbia, and at the time judge Biljana Sinanovic defined the massacre "a monstrous crime."

The severe punishment has been seen as an encouraging sign for Belgrade's capacity to settle the accounts with its own wartime past.

Cvjetan's defence lawyer Djordje Kalanj filed an appeal on December 22, 2004 reporting alleged abuses and irregularities both during the investigation and the trial.

The Supreme Court has so far failed to announce its motives but the overturning of the sentence is expected to fuel the year-long disputes on whether Serbia had completely broken with its nationalistic past during Slobodan Milosevic's regime.

Belgrade has been targeted by the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia which accuses Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's government of lack of cooperation. Four former army and police generals, whose extradition has been requested by The Hague judges, are still at large in Serbia and the tribunal head prosecutor Carla Del Ponte believes that key fugitives such as former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic enjoy excellent refuge and protection in Serbia.

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