March 5, 2015 / 3:58 PM / in 3 years

Bosnian security chief convicted of inaction against protests

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia’s national security chief was handed a one-year suspended prison sentence on Thursday for refusing to deploy his forces to protect state institutions during unprecedented civil unrest last year.

Goran Zubac, head of the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA), was found guilty of “negligence at work”, judge Mirsad Strika said, reading out the verdict.

Zubac was ordered released on a two-year probation period. It was not immediately clear whether he would keep his job, as Bosnia waits for a new national government to be formed after an election in October last year.

Bosnia was convulsed in February 2014 when protesters angry over corruption, unemployment and political inertia set fire to government buildings in several towns.

Damage to the building housing the state presidency, constitutional court, archive and other state institutions in the capital Sarajevo was estimated at 340,000 Bosnian marka ($192,500). Hundreds of police officers were injured.

Strika said Zubac, as a senior state security official, had consciously ignored calls from the top police body to deploy his forces.

The case reflects the confusion and complexity of the highly-decentralized system of governance established after Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, in which power is shared out along ethnic lines.

Zubac is an ethnic Serb, while the 2014 unrest occurred mainly in territory dominated by Muslim Bosniaks and Croats. Bosnian Serb leaders alleged the accusations against him were politically motivated.

Zubac’s defense has insisted he was not legally obliged to answer the calls from the directorate for the coordination of police bodies because the two institutions had never signed an agreement on mutual cooperation.

“In such an extraordinary situation, when the security of citizens and top state institutions was put in danger, the lack of a legal document on providing police support could not be an excuse for lack of action,” Strika said.

Zubac’s lawyer, Dragisa Jokic, said he would appeal. “I have to admit that I did not expect such a verdict,” he told reporters.

Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Andrew Roche

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