Serbia sentences ex-soldiers for 1991 war crimes in Croatia

BELGRADE, June 20 (Reuters) - Serbia’s special war crimes court sentenced eight former Yugoslav Army soldiers and paramilitaries on Thursday to prison terms of between four and eight years for the killings of 28 Croat civilians during the 1991-1995 war.

The court's ruling said it had been proven that the defendants were guilty of the killings, and of mistreating and torturing civilians in October 1991, when the then Serb-controlled Yugoslav People’s Army and paramilitaries attacked the village of Lovas in eastern Croatia.

Serbia, an EU membership candidate, and its war-time foe Croatia, an EU member, are still struggling to come to terms with the aftermath of the conflict.

Serbia promised the European Union it would press on with prosecutions linked to the war when it started the process to join the bloc.

The eight defendants now have the right to appeal and remain free until the process is exhausted.

Once of them, Zoran Kosijer, told journalists he was innocent.

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"There were between 250 and 300 witnesses and none of them knew me ... , there are no documents (saying) that I was present in the village of Lovas," he said.

The defendants - and four others who have since died - had already been convicted of the crimes in 2012, and sentenced to between four to 20 years. But the Court of Appeals annulled that verdict a year later citing procedural problems and ordered a retrial.

Eugen Jakovcic of Croatia's Documenta rights watchdog said on Thursday the legal process had dragged on too long. "We can only call (this) ... so-called justice," he told reporters in Belgrade. (Reporting by Fedja Grulovic; Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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