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Originally published Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 10:05 PM

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2 convicted of genocide in Srebrenica killings

Judges at The Hague handed down two rare genocide convictions Thursday, sentencing two security officers for the Bosnian Serb Army to life in prison for their roles in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, the worst single episode in a decade of war that left 100,000 dead and tore the Balkans apart.

The New York Times

PARIS — Judges at The Hague handed down two rare genocide convictions Thursday, sentencing two security officers for the Bosnian Serb Army to life in prison for their roles in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, the worst single episode in a decade of war that left 100,000 dead and tore the Balkans apart.

The two defendants convicted of genocide were Lt. Col. Vujadin Popovic, 53, and Col. Ljubisa Beara, 70.

The verdicts, along with five other war-crimes convictions, concluded an almost four-year trial in which many witnesses spoke, at times in horrifying detail, of the Serbian capture of the U.N.-protected enclaves of Srebrenica and Zepa that held tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslim refugees.

The military operation ended with the deportation of thousands of women and children and the execution of close to 8,000 men and boys.

Although the U.N. war-crimes tribunal has convicted more than a dozen people of crimes committed in Srebrenica, it has only once before issued a conviction of genocide. That ruling, against Gen. Radislav Krstic, was lessened on appeal to "aiding and abetting genocide."

Radovan Karadzic, the wartime Bosnian Serb political leader, is now being tried on charges of genocide, as is Zdravko Tolimir, a senior intelligence official.

The man widely considered to be the chief planner and organizer of the massacre, Gen. Ratko Mladic, remains a fugitive. Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Serbia and the architect of the war, died in 2006 while his trial was under way.

Popovic, chief of security of the Drina Corps, helped to plan and organize the killing operation, separating men, organizing convoys and showing up at the major killing sites, the judges said.

"He was entrenched" in the operation and "participated with resolve," they wrote.

Beara, chief of security of the army main staff, ranked above Popovic. As the most senior security officer, "He had the clearest overall picture of the massive scale and scope of the killing operation," the judges said. He organized logistics and became the massacre's "driving force." He located detention and execution sites and recruited people to help with the killing and the digging of mass graves, court documents said.

A third Bosnian Serb Army officer, Drago Nikolic, 52, was found guilty of aiding and abetting genocide and sentenced to 35 years.

The four other defendants were convicted of crimes against humanity and other wartime atrocities. Among them were two generals: Radivoje Miletic, 62, who was sentenced to 19 years; and Milan Gvero, 72, who received a five-year prison term. Vinko Pandurevic, 50, a brigade commander, got 13 years, and Ljubomir Borovcanin, 50, a police commander, was sentenced to 17 years.

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Genocide has proved difficult to prosecute. The concept, as defined in the 1948 U.N. resolution establishing the crime, goes beyond mass murder, requiring proof of "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such."

The three-judge panel at The Hague ruled that the definition had been met.

It was not clear whether any of the defendants planned to appeal.

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