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28 November 2007
News

Palija Sentenced to 28 years

BIRN BiH
After both parties presented their closing arguments, the first instance Trial Chamber pronounced Jadranko Palija guilty and sentenced him to 28 years' imprisonment.
The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina has handed down a first instance verdict sentencing Jadranko Palija, a former member of the Sixth Krajina Brigade Military Police Squad with the Republika Srpska Army (VRS), to 28 years' imprisonment for crimes against humanity and war crimes against civilians.

Palija was found guilty of crimes committed in the Sanski Most area in the period between 1992 and 1995.

Palija, who defended himself while on bail, has now been arrested again as per a decision issued by the chamber. He will be held in custody until a second instance verdict is pronounced.

The indictment filed by the Prosecution of BiH charges Palija with having participated, on May 31, 1992, in an attack on Begici hamlet near Kljevci village. In the course of that attack, all civilians were taken away, and the men were separated from women and children. A group of men was shot dead by some soldiers - including the indictee - at the Vrhpolje bridge.

The prosecution also charged him with having raped a woman in the summer of 1992. That woman testified during the trial. Palija was also charged with having participated, as a military policeman, in the maltreatment of Bosniaks and Croats from 1993 to October 1995.

The first instance verdict was pronounced an hour and a half after the prosecution and defence had presented their closing arguments.

Pronouncing the verdict, Trial Chamber Chairwoman Minka Kreho said that the chamber considers that the sentence "is adequate bearing in mind the consequences" of the crimes.

In its closing arguments, the Prosecution of BiH asked the court to pronounce a "long-term imprisonment sentence", in view of the cogency of the presented evidence. The defence asked for a verdict of release to be pronounced, claiming that the prosecution had failed to prove the allegations contained in the indictment.

Presenting his closing arguments, defence attorney Ranko Dakic denied the allegations contained in the indictment and indicated that "the witnesses were unreliable", in particular Raif Begic, the key prosecution witness.

"The man's words were colored with jealousy and hurt male vanity. The witness and my client had romantic feelings for the same woman, who was not attracted to Begic," said Dakic.

The Trial Chamber trusted this witness, who claimed to have survived the shooting at Vrhpolje bridge in 1992.

"Queuing for death, witness Begic watched other men being killed. After saving his life by jumping into the water, he continued watching the killing," Chairwoman Kreho explained.

The indictee listened to the verdict in disbelief, his eyes full of tears.

Both the prosecution and the defence have the right to appeal the first instance verdict.
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