War crimes prosecutor 'disappointed' with UN court

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The Yugoslav war crimes court's chief prosecutor said Wednesday he was disappointed with the UN tribunal's decision to clear on appeal two Croatian generals of war crimes -- and insisted there had been enough evidence to uphold their convictions.

"Throughout the appeal proceedings, my office explained to the appeals chamber why we believe the evidence was sufficient to support the trial chamber's convictions," Serge Brammertz said in a statement, issued in The Hague.

Accused of war crimes for their part in the 1990s conflict in the Balkans, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, both 57, were dramatically released Friday by the UN tribunal's appeals judges.

"My office is disappointed by the outcome of the judgement, which reverses the convictions," said Brammertz of the decision before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

The two generals were intially convicted and sentenced to 24 and 18 years in jail respectively for the murder of 324 Croatian Serbs and the forced displacement of 90,000 others during the 1991-1995 war in Croatia.

A former French Foreign Legionnaire, Gotovina was sentenced for war crimes that his troops committed during "Operation Storm" which he led in 1995, specifically the shelling of four towns in Croatia's self-proclaimed Serb area of Krajina in August of that year.

The lightning offensive led to the recapture of the Krajina region, crushing one of the last pockets of Serb nationalist resistance during Croatia's struggle for independence and the bloody, ethnically driven break-up of Yugoslavia.

But their successful appeals prompted joyous celebration in Croatia, where the generals are considered heros and their acquittals seen as a final vindication for Zagreb 17 years after the war ended.

In Serbia, the verdict was slammed by groups as diverse as extreme-right nationalists, liberal left-wingers and human rights activists, who accused the court of ignoring Serb victims.

"We are aware that those affected by crimes committed in connection with Operation Storm are not satisfied with the outcome and feel that their suffering has not been acknowledged," Brammertz said.

He added his office will ensure the evidence it has collected remains available to judicial authorities in the former Yugoslavia "to facilitate national prosecutions for crimes committed during Operation Storm."

"We trust that the judicial authorities in Croatia will live up to their obligations," he said.

© 2012 AFP

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