In Bosnia Srebrenica 'hero' Naser Oric awaits war crimes verdict

A Sarajevo court on Monday will deliver a keenly awaited verdict on whether Naser Oric, who is revered by many as a heroic defender of Muslims during Bosnia's bloody war but viewed as a butcher by Serbs, is a war criminal.

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Naser Oric, once a long-haired youth, is viewed by many as a hero who defended Muslims in Srebrenica, but Serbs know him as a butcher who killed and tortured prisoners play

Naser Oric, once a long-haired youth, is viewed by many as a hero who defended Muslims in Srebrenica, but Serbs know him as a butcher who killed and tortured prisoners

(AFP/File)
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A Sarajevo court on Monday will deliver a keenly awaited verdict on whether Naser Oric, who is revered by many as a heroic defender of Muslims during Bosnia's bloody war but viewed as a butcher by Serbs, is a war criminal.

The handsome 50-year-old was bodyguard to former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic and is one of only a few Bosnian Muslim commanders to have faced trial for atrocities committed against Serbs.

An old photograph shows a long-haired youth who defended the eastern town of Srebrenica, where some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were eventually massacred by Serb forces, the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II.

A subsequent one shows him at a UN war crimes tribunal detention centre in The Hague, along with other suspects, including Milosevic -- the architect of a 'Greater Serbia' -- the embodiment of everything he was fighting.

In the UN tribunal's prison "we talked about the past," Oric told local media referring to Milosevic, and adding that the strongman lent him western films.

In 2006, Oric was sentenced by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to two years in prison for not doing enough to protect Srebrenica's Serb population during Bosnia's 1992-1995 war.

But he was acquitted on appeal in 2008, two years after Milosevic died in his prison cell.

As a young police officer, Oric was a member of a Belgrade unit tasked with protecting Milosevic, who led the former Yugoslavia's bloody collapse in the 1990s.

Some 130,000 people were killed in the wars that raged on the former federation's territory between 1991 and 1999. Bosnia's conflict claimed 100,000 lives.

Nightime bouncer

Oric, a martial arts expert, attended Milosevic's meetings as a bodyguard by day and moonlighted as a security guard in Belgrade night clubs at night.

When the war between Bosnia's Croats, Muslims and Serbs started, he was in his native town of Srebrenica and organised its defence from April 1992.

"For us he is a hero, a courageous man who fought with the few means he had," Kada Hotic told AFP.

During his trial in 2016, the handsome 50-year-old Oric remained calm and was regularly welcomed by women from Srebrenica who applauded whenever he entered the court play

During his trial in 2016, the handsome 50-year-old Oric remained calm and was regularly welcomed by women from Srebrenica who applauded whenever he entered the court

(AFP/File)

Her son, husband and two brothers were killed in the massacre.

However Oric was withdrawn from Srebrenica with several other officers for military training three months before it fell on July 11, 1995.

In Bosnia, many have questioned whether the move was a sign that the authorities had decided to abandon Srebrenica to its fate.

Oric has remained tight-lipped about that period.

Unhappy with Oric's acquittal by the UN court, Belgrade in 2014 launched an international warrant accusing him of leading "several attacks against Serb villages in the Srebrenica region, to empty them of their Serb population by intimidation, torture and murder."

The victims' associations estimate that 2,428 Serb civilians and soldiers were killed in the area during the 1992-1995 conflict.

'I have no remorse'

In 2015, Serbia's then-prime minister and now President Aleksandar Vucic accused Oric of killing a prisoner, Slobodan Ilic, in 1992 after having gouged out his eyes.

Oric was arrested in Switzerland in 2015 on a Serbian warrant but extradited to his country to face charges.

He was tried in Sarajevo along with another suspect for the murder of Ilic and two other prisoners of war.

Both men pleaded not guilty.

"As a soldier, I have no remorse," Oric said repeatedly.

After Bosnia's war, Oric kept a low profile until his arrest and transfer to The Hague in 2003.

In 2009, he was sentenced to two years in prison in Sarajevo for illegal arms possession, but was pardoned by the presidency.

During his trial, which opened in 2016, Oric remained calm and was regularly welcomed by women from Srebrenica who applauded whenever he entered the court.

The head of an association of Serb prisoners of war believes Oric will be acquited.

His trial is a "farce, like the one in The Hague," Vinko Lale told AFP.

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