Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has been sentenced to 40 years in prison after the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague found him guilty of genocide at Srebrenica.

Karadzic, 70, was charged on two counts of genocide and one count each of persecution, extermination, murder as a crime against humanity and murder as a war crime, deportation, inhumane acts, terror, unlawful attacks and taking hostages.

The court cleared him of genocide charges related to crimes committed in seven municipalities other than Srebrenica due to insufficient evidence to prove the intent.

A psychiatrist by profession, Karadzic emerged as the Bosnian Serb political leader shortly before Yugoslavia began disintegrating in a series of wars in 1991. His military chief, general Ratko Mladic, is still on trial at the ICTY on similar charges.

The court ruled that Karadzic was responsible for a campaign of terror with the aim of ethnically cleansing a part of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1992-95 war by pitting Orthodox Serbs against Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats.

The campaign included the relentless shelling and sniping of Sarajevo, attacks on other towns and - in what is usually described as the worst atrocity in Europe since the Holocaust - the 1995 genocide at Srebrenica, where forces under Karadzic's command executed around 8,000 Bosniak boys and men.

ICTY chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz has described Karadzic's trial as the most important in the tribunal's 23-year history.

In an interview with the Sarajevo daily Dnevni Avaz last week, Brammertz acknowledged that many victims - after waiting 13 years for Karadzic's capture, then eight more until the sentencing - had abandoned hope in justice being served.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, welcomed the "hugely significant" verdict as a message to both victims of war crimes and those who carry them out.

"[It] is symbolically powerful ... for the victims of the crimes committed during the wars in Bosnia and across the former Yugoslavia, but also for victims across the world," he said.

"No matter how powerful they are, no matter how untouchable they imagine themselves to be ... the perpetrators of such crimes must know that they will not escape justice," Al Hussein added.

The genocide verdict against Karadzic sends a positive signal for those who seek justice for human rights violations in Syria, a senior Syrian opposition representative said.

"The trial of Radovan Karadzic certainly gives us hope," Bassma Kodmani said after the verdict was announced.

"There is an international justice out there that will certainly seek to prosecute the big criminals of Syria as well," she added, speaking on the sidelines of UN-brokered peace talks.

Karadzic is not the first Bosnian Serb convicted for the Srebrenica genocide.

His verdict adds more weight to the International Court of Justice - the UN tribunal trying cases of countries versus countries - ruling in 2007 that the Srebrenica massacre was indeed genocide committed by Bosnian Serb forces.

But Munira Subasic, head of the Mothers of Srebrenica - grouping survivors and victims' families - said she was unhappy with the acquittal for the second genocide charge.

"The survivors expect him to be found guilty of genocide also in other municipalities in the appeal," she told reporters in The Hague.

In Belgrade, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said that the Karadzic ruling must not trigger "political or any other attack" on the Srpska Republic, the Serb part of Bosnia. 

Muslims and Croats share the other half of the country, which has been split into two "entities" to end war in 1995. More than two decades since then, mistrust and hostility keep the partition cemented, stifling Bosnia's development.

Vucic has called an emergency cabinet session for Friday, with the fallout from the Karadzic verdict on the agenda, TV B92 reported.

The United States called for members of the international community to respect the verdict and cooperate with the court.

"With the trial chamber's conviction, we move one step closer to closing yet another painful chapter in the story of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

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