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April 15, 2011

UN court convicts Balkan wartime hero to Croatians

(Continued)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands —

In Zagreb, former Foreign Minister Mate Granic, who testified at the trial, criticized the verdicts as "shameful and not based on evidence." He added that the verdicts attempted to "change history and the historic truth."

Defense lawyer Greg Kehoe said Gotovina would appeal.

"We all are disappointed," he said. "We all believed ... that we would be taking the general home today."

The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal judgment said Croatia's then-president, Franjo Tudjman, led a "joint criminal enterprise" to repopulate the Krajina region with Croats after driving out Serbs. Tudjman died in 1999 while under investigation by the tribunal.

Gotovina's "orders to unlawfully attack civilians ... amounted in and of itself to a significant contribution to the joint criminal enterprise," Orie said. He said the terror spread by Croat shelling "created an environment in which those present there had no choice but to leave."

The court also convicted a second general, Mladen Markac, and sentenced him to 18 years, but cleared a third, Ivan Cermak, of all charges and ordered him released.

Gotovina and Markac both stood upright and showed no emotion as they were convicted and sentenced. Cermak looked down at the desk in front of him as Orie pronounced his acquittal of all charges.

The judgment was one of the most significant ever handed down by the U.N. court dealing with crimes against Serbs. Belgrade often accuses the tribunal of anti-Serb bias since the vast majority of suspects convicted are Serbs.

Defense lawyers for Gotovina and Markac unsuccessfully argued during the three-year trial that crimes in the Krajina were committed not by Croatian armed forces and special police, but by Croats exacting revenge on Serbs who forced them from their homes years earlier.

___

Associated Press correspondent Dusan Stojanovic contributed to this report from Croatia.

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