Hague Tribunal Acquits Croatian Generals of Atrocities in Serbia
The Hague War Crimes Tribunal has overturned the convictions of Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, charged with atrocities against Serbs in the 1990s.
In 2011 they were sentenced to 24 years and 18 years respectively on counts of murder, persecution, and plunder, for the killing of ethnic Serbs in a military operation to retake Croatia's Krajina region.
The case was tried at The Hague on appeal and the rule is final. The judges at the tribunal for former Yugoslavia ordered the release of the two, both aged 57.
On Friday, presiding Judge Theodor Meron, cited by BBC, has said that the Court had entered "a verdict of acquittal" for Gen Gotovina and Gen Markac.
In 2011, judges ruled that they were part of a criminal conspiracy, led by late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, to "permanently and forcibly remove" the Serb civilian population from Krajina, BBC reminds, and informs Judge Meron has dismissed the conspiracy charges as well.
The appeals judges also stated that the 2011 trial chamber "erred in finding that artillery attacks" ordered by Gen Gotovina and Gen Markac on Krajina towns "were unlawful".
The two former generals have always insisted that they did not deliberately attacked civilians.
BBC further reports that neither defendant has showed emotion in court, but their supporters in the gallery hugged each other and clapped after the verdict.
On Croatian capital Zagreb's main square, thousands of people, who watched the proceedings live on giant TV, cheered the ruling.
On Thursday, candle-lit vigils were held in Zagreb and Catholic churches around the country as war veterans and bishops asked supporters to "raise their voices against injustice".
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Rasim Ljajic has condemned the verdict, saying the tribunal had "lost all its credibility", Serbia's Beta news agency reported.
About 200 000 ethnic Serbs were driven from Croatia in 1995 and at least 150 were killed in a military offensive in Krajina known in "Operation Storm," ordered by Tudjman. He died in 1999 while being under investigation by The Hague tribunal.
The European Union has made it clear to former Yugoslav republics that they will not be considered for membership until war criminals are brought to justice.
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