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Montenegrin Jailed For 14 Years For War Crimes In Kosovo Conflict

Vlado Zmajevic (right) is escorted by a police offier after being arrested in Niksic in August 2016.

PODGORICA -- A court in Montenegro has convicted a defendant of committing war crimes in the late-1990s conflict in neighboring Kosovo and sentenced him to 14 years in prison.

A Special Council of the High Court in Podgorica said on June 5 that it had found Vlado Zmajevic guilty of murdering four ethnic Albanian civilians in Zegra, a village in Kosovo, in 1999.

Zmajevic, a Montenegrin who authorities said had joined Serbian forces fighting against Kosovo Albanians who were seeking independence from Serbia, was arrested in August 2016.

The Kosovo Humanitarian Law Center has said he was a key suspect in the killing of at least six civilians in Zegra after Serbian paramilitaries arrived there in March 1999.

Explaining the verdict, trial chamber President Dragoje Jovovic said that the defendant's guilt had been proven by the evidence and that Zmajevic had acknowledged a role in the killings during initial investigations but had later renounced that testimony.

Zmajevic's lawyer, Ljiljana Koldzic, decried the verdict, which can be appealed, contending that he was convicted without evidence.

A lawyer for the families of the victims in Zegra, Ljoro Markic, said the prison sentence was inadequate.

In 1999, NATO began a 78-day bombing campaign to stop Serbia's bloody crackdown against the separatists.

The Kosovo war left about 13,000 people dead and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.

Kosovo became a protectorate under UN administration and in 2008 declared its independence, which is recognized by more than 110 countries but not Serbia or Belgrade's diplomatic backer, Russia.

With reporting by Balkan Insight