Rare murder trial spotlights Denmark's Faeroes
The peaceful fishing communities of the remote Faeroe Islands hadn't seen a murder for more than 20 years until a local man disappeared without trace a year ago. It was the start of a saga that riveted the community and shone a spotlight on the tiny Danish territory in the northern Atlantic and its fiercely independent people.
Milan Konovat, a 32-year-old Croatian, was convicted this week of killing Danjal Petur Hansen, who was last seen in early November 2011 near his home in Runavik, on the island of Eysturoy, the Faeroes' second-largest island.
Hansen's body was never found - police believe it may have been thrown off a cliff, and divers searched stretches of rugged coastline in vain. But in Konovat's home, police found a pillow and a frying pan with traces of the victim's blood. At the trial it came out that Konovat was having an affair with Hansen's ex-wife.
All that added up to a guilty verdict. Konovat will be sentenced on Thursday and faces up to 16 years in prison.
"It has been top news up here for weeks because it was the biggest crime story we ever had," said Eirikur Lindenskov, chief editor of Sosialurin, the islands' largest newspaper. "Also the fact that the body was missing made the intrigue better."
Law-enforcement has generally been a relatively straightforward task in the Faeroes, an 18-island archipelago between Scotland and Iceland, 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) northeast of London, that is home to 48,500 people.
"The Faeroes is a very peaceful and safe society," said Bent J. H. Hansen, head of the islands' prison board. "For many years, crime here was chiefly linked to drunken driving and drink-related brawls, but in recent years we have seen more drugs and drug-related violence."
The last murder trial was in 1988 when a man shot and killed his girlfriend.
The islands have 14 prison cells, and about a dozen are occupied daily, the prison chief said. "For the past years that figure has been more or less constant," Bent Hansen told The Associated Press by telephone, adding that anyone sentenced to more than a year is sent to prison in Denmark.
Foreign fishermen regularly make stopovers on the Faeroes, but very few foreigners actually settle there.
Konovat had emigrated to the islands in 2009 thanks to a job in the fishing industry in Runavik. He was one of the few foreigners on the islands, which have been granted more self-autonomy from Denmark in recent decades.
Konovat gradually integrated into society and learned to speak Faeroese, according to his lawyer, Annfinn Vitalis Hansen, who is unrelated to the victim.
Islanders, who descend from ancient Vikings, insist on speaking their own tongue, fly their own flag and generally refer to the territory as a separate country, though they have been under Danish authority since 1380. The islands were administered as a Danish county until 1948, but have been granted more self-autonomy in recent decades.
Last month, a couple of hundred people gathered on a grey and cloudy day outside the house where the 42-year-old victim, known to many by his nickname Pidde, lived and allegedly was killed, to mourn him.
Still, the weather-hardened Faeroese have been reluctant to see any deeper significance in the saga. They don't see a problem with increased crime or with immigrants in the islands.
"To us this is only a tragedy between three people that ended with a man disappearing and lots of blood and evidence against him. People see that, not that the general crime level here has increased because of this murder case," said Jens-Kristian Vang, a meat-packing employee.