The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal overturned the convictions of two Croat generals on Friday for murdering and illegally expelling Serb civilians in a 1995 military blitz.
The decision, by a 3-2 majority in the U.N. court’s five-judge appeals chamber, is one of the most significant reversals in the court’s 18-year history and overturns a verdict that dealt a blow to Croatia’s self-image as a victim of atrocities, rather than a perpetrator, during the Balkan wars in the 1990s.
Mr. Gotovina and Mr. Markac were sentenced to 24 and 18 years respectively in 2011 for crimes, including murder and deportation. Judges ruled both men were part of a criminal conspiracy led by former Croat President Franjo Tudjman to expel Serbs.
But the appeals judges said prosecutors failed to prove the existence of such a conspiracy, effectively clearing Croatia’s entire wartime leadership of war crimes in the operation known as Operation Storm.
The operation came at the end of Croatia’s battle to secede from the crumbling Yugoslavia and involved grabbing back land along its border with Bosnia that had earlier been occupied by rebel Serbs.
Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic called the ruling “an important moment for Croatia.”