Two leaders of Serbia’s former secret police have been acquitted of war crimes committed in Bosnia and Croatia. While the ruling was welcomed by Belgrade, victims of wartime atrocities expressed disbelief.
Judges sitting at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) said prosecutors had not been able to prove that Jovica Stanisic and his co-accused, the counter-intelligence official Franko Simatovic (pictured center) had intended paramilitary units to commit crimes against humanity.
While the court "found that it was not proven beyond reasonable doubt that Stanisic or Simatovic planned or ordered the crimes," it did say that the units themselves had carried out crimes against humanity in Bosnia and Croatia in the early 1990s.
Judges ruled that the pair should be immediately released. The prosecution, which had called for the two men to be given life sentences, may still lodge an appeal against the acquittals.
Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic welcomed the court's decision. "Serbia has always advocated fair trials to all those accused before the tribunal in The Hague as the only way to establish the truth about the war and make conditions for reconciliation, peace and stability in the region," said Dacic.
However, in Sarajevo, Munira Subasic - head of the Mothers of Srebrenica victims' association - told the news agency AFP that the acquittal was "unacceptable."
“This is a political verdict. I am shocked," Subasic told AFP. "ICTY did not fulfill its mission. Unfortunately, it encourages criminals to commit crimes in the future."
Meanwhile, the Bosnian Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) said the verdict served to prove "that the policy of The Hague tribunal is changed in order to abolish Serbia from responsibility for aggression and wartime suffering in Bosnia and Croatia."
"Instead of truth and justice, the verdict brings untruth and injustice," the party said in a statement.
The court's decision came after the acquittal of Yugoslav army chief Momcilo Perisic in February and the former prime minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, along with Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac in November.
rc/ccp (AFP, dpa, Reuters)