Swedish court quashes Serb war crime verdict

A Swedish appeals court on Wednesday formally overturned the conviction of a Serb previously jailed for life for war crimes, finding there was no proof he was involved in the 1999 massacre of 40 people in Kosovo.

Swedish court quashes Serb war crime verdict

The court threw out the conviction of the 35-year-old Milic Martinovic because several witnesses had identified him despite only seeing him in photographs.

The ruling overturns a verdict from January, when a district court convicted Martinovic of aggravated crimes against humanity. The guilty verdict included murder, attempted murder and aggravated arson in connection with the massacre in the Kosovar village Cuska.

He had been arrested in April 2010 and held since then.

But the Court of Appeal (Svea hovrätt) threw out the conviction.

“The appeals court finds that there are doubts and risks regarding the identifications,” it said in a statement.

“None of the villagers knew this person, and the identifications were made several years after the events,” the court said in a statement.

“Furthermore, pictures of the suspect had appeared in the media for a while before the identifications,” it added.

“These photographs, which were taken the year before the massacre, show him in uniform, sometimes in the company of people known to be involved in the Cuska events,” it said.

The court acknowledged that Martinovic’s phoned had been tapped in the lead up to several people being arrested in Serbia in 2010 on suspicion that they were involved in the Cuska massacre.

The wiretaps showed that Martinovic knew about the massacre and was worried about the investigation, it added.

“But this court does not think that the wiretap proves that he took part in the massacre,” it said.

Martinovic insisted he was innocent during his trial. His lawyer, Bertil Schultz, told news agency TT that Martinovic would be seeking compensation for his unusually long detention.

The verdict overturns an earlier ruling by a lower court. The Stockholm district court ruled that Martinovic was one of the special PJP police force members who took a large number of people captive in Cuska on May 14, 1999.

While the court did not find evidence that Martinovic had personally killed anyone, it concluded that he stood guard as his comrades shot civilians and forced residents to hand over gold and other valuables.

AFP/The Local/at

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Why has Serbia pledged €1 million for Notre-Dame restoration?

Serbia on Monday said it will donate one million euros to help restore Notre-Dame Cathedral, after pro-government tabloids said the fire was "God's punishment" to France.

Why has Serbia pledged €1 million for Notre-Dame restoration?
French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Photo: AFP

The donation, equivalent to $1.1 million, “confirms our century-old friendship with the French people”, the Serbian government said in a statement.

Belgrade hopes “this symbol of French civilisation and the world will be rebuilt as quickly as possible.”

The gift comes after two tabloids, Alo and Informer, said the blaze was divine retribution after Kosovo's flag was displayed inside the cathedral during World War I centennial commemorations in Paris last year.

Serbia does not recognise the independence of Kosovo, a former southern province that broke away in a 1998-99 war.

The tabloid articles, entitled “God's punishment caught them”, were later removed, while Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic assured that “all citizens of Serbia are sad” about the fire.

The display of Kosovo's flag inside the church, alongside those of other foreign guests at the ceremony last November, was tweeted by Serbia's ambassador to Paris but never confirmed by the cathedral or French authorities.

It was met with outrage in Belgrade, which was already angry after Kosovo's president was given a more prominent position than Serbia's at one of the centenary's events.

Hundreds of millions of euros have poured in from around the globe to help rebuild the cathedral since it went up in flames last Monday.

French President Emmanuel Macron has set a five-year deadline to rebuild the cathedral, which took around 200 years to erect.