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Bosnian Serb prison chief jailed

Nikolic admitted the charges.

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THE HAGUE, The Netherlands (Reuters) -- A Bosnian Serb prison camp commander who murdered and tortured Muslim prisoners by beating them with ax handles and metal pipes has been jailed for 23 years by The Hague war crimes tribunal.

Dragan Nikolic, the former commander of Susica detention camp in eastern Bosnia, pleaded guilty in September to persecution, murder, torture and allowing guards and soldiers to rape and sexually assault women at the camp in 1992.

The 46-year-old former aluminum factory worker admitted to meting out a series of brutal beatings at the camp using metal piping, rifle butts and wooden bats, and involvement in shooting dead other prisoners at the camp during the Bosnian war.

"One of the most chilling aspects of these acts was the enjoyment he derived from this criminal conduct. ... These were not isolated acts but expressions of sadism by the accused," the presiding judge said in a sentencing judgment by the U.N. war crimes court shown on a Web cast.

Nikolic in September reversed a not-guilty plea made in 2000 after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors. Prosecutors had called for a prison term of up to 16 years after he agreed to plead guilty to four counts of crimes against humanity.

The presiding judge said the recommended sentence did not reflect the severity of the committed crimes.

Nikolic, a tall and gaunt man, admitted to nine murders, including the death of a 60-year-old man he beat unconscious with a metal pipe. The man later died from his wounds. He also admitted forcing a bayonet and a pistol into prisoners' mouths.

Around 8,000 Muslims and other non-Serbs were detained in the overcrowded camp in eastern Bosnia where prosecutors said inmates were beaten on a daily basis between May and October 1992 during a wave of ethnic cleansing.

Nikolic, who was arrested by NATO-led peacekeepers in northern Bosnia in April 2000, was the first suspect indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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