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The acquittals of General Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac for war crimes by a UN appeals court were greeted with jubilation in the streets of the Croatian capital, Zagreb, on Friday.
The successful appeal marks the biggest reversal for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia during its two decades of hearing cases involving the bloody breakup of the country.
Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic welcomed the decision, but conceded that there had been wrongdoing on his side:
“Obviously these are two innocent men but that does not mean that the war was not difficult, bloody and just as far as Croatia is concerned.
There were mistakes in that war, mistakes that the Croatian state is ultimately responsible for, not Markac and Gotovina. And for those, and to those, who were wronged by the Croatian state, Croatia will fulfil its debt to justice,” he said.
But, Savo Strbac, the director of Serbian NGO “Veritas”, echoed the feelings of many of his countrymen.
“We are shocked by the verdict. I can freely say that it is shameful because I am a judge myself and I know how things work. This verdict is the result of a majority vote,” he said.
The Serbian President was also vocal in his opposition to the courts decision.
In a written statement Tomislav Nikolic said: “It is now quite clear the tribunal made a political decision and not a legal ruling. Today’s ruling will not contribute to the stabilisation of the situation in the region and will open old wounds.
If we had reasons to believe that the tribunal is neutral, fair and more than a court only for Serbia and its people, these reasons are now annulled with the acquittal of war criminals.”