Ex-Yugoslav army leader acquitted of war crimes

Thu Feb 28, 2013 12:59pm EST
 
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By Thomas Escritt

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The former head of the Yugoslav army was acquitted on Thursday of charges of aiding and abetting atrocities committed in Bosnia and Croatia during the 1990s, in a ruling that was condemned by victims but welcomed by Serb officials.

United Nations war crimes judges said Momcilo Perisic had provided legitimate military support to the ethnic Serb Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) forces in Bosnia, but ruled he had not ordered them to commit war crimes.

"While Mr Perisic may have known of VRS crimes, the Yugoslav Army aid he facilitated was directed towards the VRS's general war effort rather than VRS crimes," said Theodor Meron, president of the appeals chamber at the tribunal in The Hague.

Dressed in a charcoal-grey suit and a black tie, a stern-faced Perisic, 68, showed no emotion as Meron read out the acquittal and ordered his immediate release.

Rebel Serbs fought to carve out an ethnically Serb state in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995 after its Muslims and Croats voted for independence from Serbian-led federal Yugoslavia.

Judges said he also was innocent of ordering Serbian forces to shell the Croatian capital Zagreb.

Serb forces committed some of the gravest crimes in post-war European history during Yugoslavia's break-up, including the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, and the siege of Sarajevo in which more than 10,000 civilians died.

The acquittal means the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has not convicted a single Belgrade official for involvement in crimes in Bosnia and Croatia, which claimed tens of thousands of lives.   Continued...

 
Momcilo Perisic (R), the former chief of staff of the Yugoslav army, attends a hearing in the courtroom of the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal (ICTY) in The Hague February 28, 2013. REUTERS/Koen Van Weel/ANP/Pool