UN judges have acquitted the former chief of the Yugoslav National Army, Momcilo Perisic, on charges of aiding and abetting atrocities by rebel Serbs and providing them with military aid during the Balkan wars.
In a 4-1 ruling the judges ordered that Perisic be freed Thursday, overturning his previous conviction. He had been given a 27-year sentence in 2011 after being found guilty of 12 of 13 counts of crimes against humanity.
The charges against him at the time included helping the Bosnian Serb army's massacre of Muslims at Srebrenica, the site of Europe's worst atrocity since World War II; the shelling and sniping of Sarajevo during the 1992-95 civil war; and the shelling of Croatia's capital, Zagreb.
The five-judge appeals panel ruled that Perisic, a former right-hand man to Slobodan Milosevic, had provided military support to Republika Srpska militia forces (VRS) in Bosnia, but that he had not ordered them to commit war crimes.
"Mr. Perisic was not proved beyond reasonable doubt to have facilitated assistance specifically directed towards VRS crimes in Sarajevo and Srebrenica," said Theodor Meron, president of the appeals chamber at the tribunal in The Hague. "The VRS undertook, inter alia, lawful combat activities and was not a purely criminal organization."
"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," Meron added.
The overturning of Perisic's conviction means that no court has convicted an official from Serbia proper for the crimes committed in Bosnia. The only other official to be implicated in the Srebrenica massacre, the strongman Milosevic, died midtrial in his detention cell at The Hague in 2006.
dr/mkg (AFP, Reuters, AP)