CROATIAN NEWS (Croatia), B92.NET (Serbia), FOCUS (Germany)
ZAGREB - Two Croatian generals, considered heroes in Croatia and denounced as war criminals in Serbia, were freed from prison Friday after being acquitted on appeal by the International War Crimes Tribunal.
Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac were sentenced last year respectively to 24 and 18 years, and had been imprisoned since 2005 and 2004 on charges related to the persecution of the Croatian Serb population in 1995.
The two men had been accused of war crimes, including the murder of 300 prisoners of war and civilians, and the expulsion of 200,000 Serbs from their homes.
In a “completely unexpected verdict,” the court ruled that it could not be proven that the generals had planned the expulsion, nor that they had ordered the murders, reported Focus.
Serbia and Croatia were both part of the former nation of Yugoslavia, which broke up in the aftermath of the Cold War, starting in 1991. When Croatia became independent, a majority-Serb enclave there, Krajina, rebelled and was supported by Serbia across the border. General Gotovina suppressed the rebellion, expelled the Serbian population and returned the region to Croatian control, for which he is considered a hero in Croatia.
Newspaper headlines in Croatia read “Croatia is innocent!” reports Focus. “Thousands of people were celebrating in the streets of Croatian towns” after the verdict, which was watched live on the main square in the capital Zagreb, reports online site Croatian News.
Church bells were ringing across Croatia, reports B92, a Serbian news site. The Serbian prime minister declared that the International Tribunal’s decision was “political” and “will open old wounds,” according to B92.