International Law

Serbian court gives suspended sentences to rioters who damaged US Embassy

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In a move likely to strain relations with the United States, a Serbian court today gave suspended prison sentences to four men involved in the rioting in 2008 that resulted in serious damage to the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, the Associated Press reports.

Rioting nationalists and soccer hooligans stormed the embassy days after Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia, a move supported by the U.S. It took several years before anyone was charged in the embassy attack, and then even more time for this ruling by Belgrade’s Higher Court.

The U.S. embassy issued a statement saying “it is difficult to understand how it has taken nine years to reach the verdict in this case … with the final result that one of the seven defendants, four of whom admitted in the presence of counsel to participating in a serious offense, was sentenced to serve time in jail.”

Tuesday’s ruling found there was insufficient evidence to convict three of the men charged, and acquitted them. In this retrial, ordered by an appellate court after earlier convictions, three of the men received sentences of six months, suspended, and one got a five-month suspended sentence, Serbian news organization B92reports.

Charges against the four men stemmed from throwing rocks that broke windows in the embassy. They were convicted for endangering public safety. Others, as yet unidentified, then threw torches into the building, and the resulting fires caused nearly a half-million dollars in damage, according the U.S. embassy.

Serbian anger and frustration had simmered for years after NATO bombed the country in 1999 to force removal of its troops from Kosovo, the New York Times reported soon after the rioters damaged the U.S. embassy in Belgrade.

Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 was perhaps the biggest in a series of blows over many years to Serbia as the former Yugoslavia fell apart by secessions.

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