Candle-light vigils held in Croatia before the ruling

A UN court on Friday acquitted Croatian ex-generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac of war crimes during the bloody 1990s breakup of Yugoslavia and ordered them freed, to shouts and tears of joy from their supporters across Europe.

The appeals court “enters a verdict of acquittal” for Gotovina and Markac, judge Theodor Meron said at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

False premise

Gotovina and Markac, considered heros in Croatia, were last year jailed for 24 and 18 years respectively for the murder of Croatian Serbs during their country’s struggle for independence and the bloody, ethnically driven break-up of Yugoslavia. But the court found that the initial convictions had been based on the false premise that any artillery that landed on Serb-inhabited towns and was more than 200 metres (yards) from a military target was an attack on civilians.

‘Joint criminal enterprise’

Judges also overturned the finding of “a joint criminal enterprise whose purpose was the permanent and forcible removal of Serb civilians from the Krajina region.” Candle-lit vigils were held the night before the ruling around Croatia, which will in July join the European Union having fulfilled the condition of handing over war crimes suspects to the court based in The Hague. A former French Foreign Legionnaire, Gotovina was sentenced for war crimes his troops committed during “Operation Storm” he led in 1995, specifically the shelling of four towns in Croatia’s self-proclaimed Serb area of Krajina in August of that year.AFP