Naser Oric Srebrenica 'defender' acquitted of war crimes

He was acquitted of the charge of killing three ethnic Serb prisoners in 1992. Another Bosnian army soldier, Sabahudin Muhic, was also found not guilty.

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Naser Oric was a bodyguard for Slobodan Milosevic by day and a security guard in Belgrade nighclubs at night play

Naser Oric was a bodyguard for Slobodan Milosevic by day and a security guard in Belgrade nighclubs at night

(AFP)
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A Sarajevo court on Monday acquitted Naser Oric, a commander revered by many as the defender of Muslims during Bosnia's 1990s conflict but viewed as a butcher by Serbs, of war crimes charges.

Oric, 50, 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.

He was acquitted of the charge of killing three ethnic Serb prisoners in 1992. Another Bosnian army soldier, Sabahudin Muhic, was also found not guilty.

Oric 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.

But in 2006, Oric was sentenced by a UN war crimes tribunal to two years in prison for not doing enough to protect Srebrenica's Serb population during Bosnia's 1992-1995 war.

He was acquitted on appeal in 2008, a ruling angering Serbs, who accused The Hague-based court of "partiality."

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.

'A courageous man'

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

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However Oric was withdrawn from Srebrenica with several other officers for military training three months before it fell on July 11, 1995.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

Bosnian Muslim supporters welcomed Oric in Sarajevo after the UN tribunal cleared of war crimes against Serbs play

Bosnian Muslim supporters welcomed Oric in Sarajevo after the UN tribunal cleared of war crimes against Serbs

(AFP/File)

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

'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 gouging 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 Muhic for the murder of Ilic and two other prisoners of war.

"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.

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