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Survivors of Bosnian war turn backs on U.N. court head

President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Theodor Meron (C) visits the Tomasica mass grave near Prij
President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Theodor Meron (C) visits the Tomasica mass grave near Prij

By Daria Sito-Sucic

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - The head of the United Nations tribunal set up 20 years ago to try those behind the bloodshed of Yugoslavia's breakup faced protests on Wednesday by survivors angry at what they say is only partial justice.

As Theodor Meron began his keynote speech at a conference in Sarajevo to mark two decades of the tribunal's work, families of victims turned their backs and removed their translation headphones.

A group of activists walked out, carrying a banner that read "R.I.P. Justice". Meron did not react and continued with his speech, in which he said the court rulings were based solely on the law and the evidence available.

The protest reflected deepening dissatisfaction, particularly in Bosnia, at the effectiveness of the Hague-based tribunal in seeking justice for the more than 125,000 people killed in the 1990s during the collapse of federal Yugoslavia.

It follows the acquittal this year of two former top Serbian security officials and a Serbian general of involvement in war crimes committed in Bosnia and Croatia. The verdicts meant no Belgrade official has been convicted of crimes during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, which was largely fuelled from Serbia.

"This is our way to say that they are rewarding criminals and punishing us yet again," said Hatidza Mehmedovic, head of the "Mothers of Srebrenica" association who lost her husband and two sons in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, the worst mass killing on European soil since World War Two.

The tribunal's No. 1 indictee, former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, died in his Hague cell while still on trial in 2006.

The men regarded as the masterminds of the Bosnian war, Bosnian Serb former political leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic, are being tried for genocide and other war crimes.

Serbia has also complained about the tribunal, particularly following the release on appeal late last year of top Croatian military officer Ante Gotovina and the acquittal of Kosovo Albanian former guerrilla commander Ramush Haradinaj.

Addressing the same conference, Bakir Izetbegovic, the Bosniak member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, said the tribunal had veered from its primary goal of punishing the perpetrators of the gravest war crimes.

"How else to understand the acquittals on appeal of the command responsibility of leaders of military, police and security structures?" said Izetbegovic. "Is justice reachable for ordinary people or is it only a privilege of the powerful?"

(Editing by Matt Robinson and Gareth Jones)

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