BELGRADE (Reuters) – Four Serbian men got suspended prison terms on Tuesday for taking parts in riots at the U.S. embassy in 2008 – a long-delayed case that has soured relations between Belgrade and Washington.
The four were convicted of hurling stones at the embassy during protests over perceived U.S. support for Kosovan independence. They were not charged over a fire that broke out at the peak of the riots and destroyed part of the building.
Washington has pressed for prosecutions for almost a decade, but no one has so far been convicted over the blaze which killed one protester.
The four – Dejan Vucckovic, Dragan Marinkov, Marko Novitovic and Milan Tomas – pleaded not guilty but were convicted of endangering public safety and given two-year suspended sentences.
The court ruling said the men’s rocks broke windows in the embassy and other protesters later threw in flares that started the fire.
Another three defendants were acquitted due to lack of evidence.
Serbia’s government and the protesters reacted with fury after Kosovo’s declaration of independence on Feb 21, 2008.
Serbia considers Kosovo its historic heartland and has waged a diplomatic campaign against the secession of the predominantly ethnic Albanian region. Belgrade lost control of Kosovo in 1999 after NATO bombing ended Serbia’s brutal counterinsurgency against Albanians there.
Defense lawyer Zelimir Cabrilo said the court’s verdict had not addressed the political factors behind the riot.
“It was a political decision to stage the rally … to remove (police) security from the embassy,” Cabrilo told reporters.
“Instead, we have light, modest sentences against four persons … for hurling stones, they were not sentenced for torching it (the embassy).”
The case was delayed last year when the Serbian Court of Appeals annulled a lower court’s sentencing, citing deficiencies in the ruling, and ordered a retrial.
Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Andrew Heavens