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Bosnian Serb Given Life by German Court

War crimes: Trial ends after 9 months with defendant convicted of genocide and murder. He maintains he was a victim of mistaken identity.

September 27, 1997| From Reuters

DUSSELDORF, Germany — A Bosnian Serb was sentenced to life imprisonment by a German court Friday for leading a death squad that massacred Muslims as part of the campaign to drive them out of Serbian territory in the Bosnian war.

Nikola Jorgic, 50, was found guilty on 11 counts of genocide and 30 counts of murder, as well as on assault and kidnapping charges.

"The accused killed and abused people of his own free will," Judge Gunter Krantz told the trial.

Jorgic was the second person convicted of war crimes in Germany since the end of the internationally run Nuremberg trials at which dozens of Nazi leaders were convicted after World War II. The first was another Bosnian Serb, sentenced last May.

Jorgic denied the charges during his nine-month trial, contending that he was a victim of mistaken identity, and declined to make any further statement in court. His lawyer said he would appeal.

German justice officials initially offered to hand over Jorgic to the United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslav federation based in The Hague, which has indicted scores of people from the 1992-95 conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia.

But Germany agreed to take on the case because the tribunal was overloaded with work.

The life sentence for Jorgic corresponded to prosecutors' demands.

They said Jorgic, who was arrested in Dusseldorf in 1995, lived in the Ruhr Valley in western Germany from 1969 until 1992, then returned to Bosnia and helped carry out mass killings in an attempt to create a "Greater Serbia" purged of Muslims.

He then came back to Germany and was living in the western town of Bochum when he was detained.

From May to September 1992, prosecutors said, Jorgic led a group of Serbian nationalists who took part in at least 14 instances of "ethnic cleansing."

The term came into vogue during the Yugoslav conflict to denote the purging of civilians, whether by intimidation, expulsion or killing.

"It is beyond doubt for this court that the accused was most deeply involved in these terrible events," Krantz said.

In one incident, Jorgic and an accomplice fired machine guns at a group of Muslims in the town of Grapska in June 1992, killing 22 people, according to prosecutors.

Jorgic rejected the charges as "lies." His lawyer said a German court had no right to rule on acts carried out by a foreigner on foreign soil, but the court dismissed that argument.

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