A U.N. war crimes tribunal onTuesday sentenced Milan Babic (search), the wartime leader of Croatia's rebellious Serbs, to 13 years imprisonment for his role in ethnic cleansing of "ruthlessness and savagery."

Babic, 48, once one of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's (search) closest allies, was convicted in January of one count of persecution for the seven-month campaign against non-Serbs in the self-proclaimed Croatian Republic of Krajina (search), when hundreds of civilians were executed or murdered about 80,000 non-Serbs, mostly Croats and a few Muslims, were expelled.

Babic pleaded guilty to the single count in a deal in which prosecutors dropped four other charges of murder, cruelty and the wanton destruction of villages during the war in Croatia, which began when the Serbs revolted after Croatia broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991.

"Babic does not deny the seriousness of the crimes," said Judge Alphons Orie in pronouncing sentence. "The crimes were characterized by ruthlessness and savagery and had a severe impact on victims and their relatives. Their suffering is still significant."

The sentence was harsher than the 11-year recommendation by the prosecution, which Orie said "does not achieve the purpose of punishment, nor does it do justice."

The court gave credit to Babic, a former dentist and head of a prewar health clinic, for voluntarily surrendering to the tribunal and testifying against Milosevic, considered the most important war crimes trial since World War II. The Milosevic case moves into its second half next week with the opening of the defense.

Babic remained quiet after sentencing, but during his plea hearing in January, he begged forgiveness of the Croatian people, saying that he felt "a deep sense of shame and remorse."

"The persecutions caused the murder or extermination of hundreds of Croat or other non-Serb civilians ... They also caused the routine and prolonged imprisonment of hundreds of Croat and other non-Serb civilians," said the judgment read by Orie.

By giving "ethnically inflammatory" speeches and funding the armed Serb rebellion, Babic laid the foundation for the Croatian conflict, which Orie said is still suffering the consequences.