THE HAGUE, Netherlands — U.N. judges on Thursday acquitted former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic of ordering a deadly campaign of terror against Kosovo Albanians, saying he had no role in what they ruled was a criminal plot to drive ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo.
The tribunal ordered Milutinovic released from custody, but it convicted five other seniors from the Serbian government - the Deputy Prime Minister, the Army Chief of Staff, two army generals and an ex-policeman - and gave them prison sentences of between 15 and 22 years. It was the court's first judgment establishing widespread Serb crimes in Kosovo.
In what was as close to a guilty verdict for Milosevic himself as the court has ever come, presiding judge Iain Bonomy of Scotland said Milosevic was the most powerful commander of Serb troops and military police who carried out a campaign of murder, rape and deportations that forced nearly 800,000 ethnic Albanians to flee Kosovo before NATO airstrikes forced a Serb withdrawal in mid-1999.
"In practice, it was Milosevic, sometimes termed the 'Supreme Commander' who exercised actual command authority over the (Serb army) during the NATO campaign," Bonomy said.
The court ruled that the plot was led by Milosevic and that Milutinovic had no role. Lawyers said they would study the judgment before pushing for an appeal.
Among crimes judges said prosecutors proved were mass murders of Albanian men, the rape of four women and the killing of eight more. Serb forces also buried scores of bodies in mass graves in Serbia in an attempt to conceal their crimes, the judgment said.
Kosovo's deputy prime minister, Hajredin Kuci, said the judges had made "the right decision."
The tribunal has indicted 161 suspects, most of them Serbs, and wrapped up cases against 116 of them.
Copyright 2009 Associated Press