The UN war crimes tribunal on Thursday acquitted late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic's intelligence chief and his deputy of running Serbian death squads responsible for mass killings during the brutal Bosnia and Croatia wars in the early 1990s.
International judges on Thursday acquitted two former Serbian secret police officials of involvement in war crimes committed in Bosnia and Croatia in the early 1990s wars that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia.
Judges said it was not proven that Jovica Stanisic, head of Serbia's security service and a close ally of late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, had intended to have paramilitary units commit crimes against humanity. They acquitted Franko Simatovic, a counter-intelligence official, of similar charges.
Stanisic and Simatovic each faced five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their roles in the brutal conflict, which killed 100,000 people and left some 2.2 million others without a home.
The pair trained and guided Serb paramilitary units that were active in Bosnia and Croatia, including the Red Berets and the Skorpions. These units murdered civilians and subjected them to forced deportation, but judges found there was no evidence this had been the aim of Stanisic or Simatovic.
"The chamber found the prosecution had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused planned or ordered the crimes," said Alphons Orie, president of the three-judge panel.
The defendants were impassive as they stood to hear the final verdict, but gave their lawyers emotional hugs once it became clear that they were free men.
The acquittal was welcomed by the Serbian prime minister.
"The Serbian government has always insisted that all suspects before the Hague tribunal should receive a fair trial," Ivica Dacic said. "This is the only way to establish the truth about the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, for reconciliation and lasting peace throughout the region."
"Such a verdict is of a great importance for Serbia," Dacic added shortly after the ICTY announced the acquittal.
In Sarajevo, Munira Subasic, president of an association of families of the Bosnian war victims, said the acquittal was "unacceptable."
"This is unbelievable and unacceptable! This is a political verdict. I am shocked," Subasic told the AFP news agency.
"ICTY did not fulfil its mission. Unfortunately, it encourages criminals to commit crimes in the future," said Subasic, head of the Mothers of Srebrenica association, a group of women whose male family members were killed in the July 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serbs.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-05-30