Six former top Bosnian Croat leaders were handed long prison sentences Wednesday after they were convicted of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including the rape and murder of Bosnian Muslims.
The offenses, which date to between 1992 and 1994, formed part of a wider conflict that followed the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.
The six were accused at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia of trying to "ethnically cleanse" non-Croats from areas of the territory of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Bosnian Croat leadership, along with Croat leaders, wanted to make this territory part of a "Greater Croatia," said the ICTY, which is based in the Hague.
In order to achieve this, they carried out crimes against Bosnian Muslims and other non-Croats that included murder, rape, sexual assault, destruction of property, imprisonment and deportation, the ICTY statement said.
Jadranko Prlic, Bruno Stojic, Milivoj Petkovic and Valentin Coric were convicted on 22 counts of the indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Prlic, the former president of the Croatian Defense Council and later head of the government of a wartime Croat entity, Herceg-Bosna, was sentenced to 25 years in prison -- the toughest penalty.
The other three were given prison terms ranging from 16 to 20 years in length.
Two of the accused, Slobodan Praljak and Berislav Pusic, were acquitted on some of the charges against them.
Praljak, a former assistant defense minister of Croatia and at the same time a commander of the Croatian Defense Council, was convicted on 20 counts and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
He played an important role in securing weapons and ammunition for the Croatian Defense Council army, the indictment said.
Pusic, who was formerly in charge of detention facilities and prisoner exchanges for the Croatian Defense Council, was found guilty on 18 counts and given 10 years in prison.
Defense lawyers for the six have 30 days to appeal their convictions and sentences.
The chamber ruled by a majority that the accused wanted to create a Croat entity to unify the Croatian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Later, these areas were to be either joined with the Republic of Croatia or remain in close association with it, the ICTY said.
The indictment focused on crimes committed in eight municipalities, including Mostar, the ICTY said.
The chamber concluded that "in the majority of cases, these crimes were not committed in a random manner by a few undisciplined soldiers. On the contrary, they were the result of a plan put together by the (accused) members to remove the Muslim population of Herceg-Bosna."
Others were also part of this joint criminal enterprise, it said, and together they secured personnel and coordinated operations on the ground to carry out the plan.
In the case of the historic city of Mostar, "extreme violence" was used to evict Bosnian Muslims from West Mostar, claimed by the Croats, to the other side of the city, the statement said.
"Muslims were woken up in the middle of the night, beaten and forced to leave their apartments, often still in their pyjamas. Many women, including a girl of 16, were raped" by Croatian Defense Council soldiers, it said.
From June 1993 to April 1994, East Mostar was under siege and the Muslim population there was subject to "intensive and constant" shelling which left many civilians dead or injured, it said.
Other testimony focused on abuses against Muslim prisoners at Croatian Defense Council detention centers, including beatings, sexual assaults and using them as forced labor on the front lines.
The trial, which started in April 2006, is one the largest and most complex the tribunal has handled, it said. More than 200 witnesses were called, 145 of them by the prosecution, and the judgment runs to some 2,600 pages.