Serbia prosecutors to appeal 2 war crimes verdicts

Serbia on Monday sentenced two men to 15 and six years each in prison for the wartime torture and killing of 700 Muslims in eastern Bosnia — but the prosecutor's office called the sentences too lenient and said it will appeal.

Former local officials Branko Popovic and Branko Grujic were convicted in the deaths of civilians near the town of Zvornik in 1992.

Crimes against Muslims in the area bordering Serbia are considered among the most brutal of the 1992-1995 Bosnia war. Serb troops, including notorious paramilitary fighters, rounded up Muslim civilians, tortured them, then killed or expelled most in a spasm of ethnic cleansing.

The War Crimes Prosecutor's Office said it would appeal Monday's verdicts, calling the sentences "inadequate considering the responsibility of the accused, with regard to the number of victims, the mass and brutal character of the crimes."

An association of the victims' families also criticized the verdicts.

"I am speechless, in shock," Hakija Smajlovic, the group's representative told B92 TV. "I could not believe that such light sentences can be handed for the killing of 700 people."

Muslim prisoners were held in inhumane conditions, with some suffocating to death, the court said, adding the two men were guilty of aiding in the killings and doing nothing to prevent them.

It noted the two were indicted for "premeditated and synchronized" acts that also resulted in rounding up 1,642 Muslim civilians who were either killed or forced to leave their homes.

The two were arrested in 2005, which means that Grujic has less than a year left to serve in prison.

The trial is part of Serbia's efforts to deal with its wartime past as it seeks to join the European Union.