Croat atrocities sentences overturned
A United Nations court overturned the sentences of two Croatian generals convicted of atrocities against Serbs in 1995 as thousands of Croatian war veterans cheered in the capital, Zagreb.
The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia said Gen Ante Gotovina and Gen Mladen Markac should be released immediately after ruling in favour of their appeal, Theodor Meron, the president of the five-member panel ruling on the case, said today.
The two generals were convicted in April 2011 of the murder and persecution of Serbs in the 1995 Operation Storm, which ended the war following Croatia's 1991 independence from Yugoslavia. Gen Gotovina was originally given 24 years in jail and Gen Markac 18 years.
"Whatever the verdict, we will face it with dignity," Josip Klemm, head of a special police veterans association, said by telephone.
"The verdict will be a judgment not only on the generals, but on all the veterans and also on the Croatian state."
The case closed as the former Yugoslav republic prepares to join the European Union next July and struggles to recover after three years of recession and stagnation.
Croatia co-operated with the extradition of the generals to The Hague and supports their defence teams in claiming the generals could not have prevented the troops from committing crimes.
In Operation Storm, the Croatian army reclaimed swathes of land held by rebel Serbs who since 1991 had opposed Croatia's drive to break away from the former Yugoslavia.
While most Serbs fled the approaching Croat forces, murders and looting were reported after the Croatian army took over. The UN court ruled today that there was no excessive shelling of four towns by the Croatian army and that the mass departure of Serbs could not be described as a "deportation".
Thousands of Serbs have returned in recent years. Their reintegration was a key element for Croatia to conclude EU membership talks. For many Croats, the generals symbolise the country's independence and the beginning of the operation is celebrated as a public holiday called Victory Day.
In its 2011 verdict, the court said Gen Gotovina was part of a "joint criminal enterprise" along with former president Franjo Tudjman, defence minister Gojko Susak and army chief of staff Janko Bobetko, all three of whom are now dead.