Hague Court acquits Croat Generals Gotovina and Markac
Friday, 16 November 2012

A war crimes court in The Hague has overturned the convictions of two Croatian generals charged with atrocities against Serbs in the 1990s, BBC reports.

Appeals judges at tribunal for the former Yugoslavia ordered the release of Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac.

In 2011 they were sentenced to 24 years and 18 years respectively over the killing of ethnic Serbs in an offensive to retake Croatia's Krajina region.

Thousands of people in Croatia's capital Zagreb cheered Friday's ruling.

On Friday, presiding Judge Theodor Meron said that court entered "a verdict of acquittal" for Gen Gotovina and Gen Markac, both aged 57.

The two men were last year convicted of of murder, persecution and plunder. Judges then ruled that they were part of a criminal conspiracy led by late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman to expel ethnic Serbs.

They referred to the shelling of Knin and three other towns.

But on Friday, Judge Meron said there had been no such conspiracy.

Court officials also said prosecutors would not appeal against the ruling, describing it as "the final judgement".

Neither defendant showed emotion in court, but their supporters in the gallery hugged each other and clapped after the verdict.

In Zagreb's main square, thousands of people - who watched the proceedings live on giant TV - burst into applause.

"Our general are heroes because they risked their lives to save our country and liberate the people," student Andjela Anic, 26, was quoted as saying by the AFP.

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".

Gotovina and Markac, both 57, were convicted of murder and a range of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed as their forces retook the Krajina region, which had been under Serbian control since the start of the war in 1991.

About 200,000 ethnic Serbs were driven from Croatia in 1995 and at least 150 were killed in a military offensive in Krajina known as Operation Storm.

The operation to retake the region which had been under Serbian control since the start of the war in 1991 was ordered by Mr Tudjman. The Croatian leader died in 1999 while being under investigation by The Hague tribunal.

The aftermath of the war is a key issue both in Croatia's domestic politics and its external relations.

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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