Serbian officials praised the Hague Tribunal's acquittal of Yugoslav general Momcilo Perisic of war crimes, saying it proved Belgrade wasn't the aggressor in the 1990s conflicts.
“Finally, some good news from The Hague,” was the first reaction from the Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic after the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, overturned the 27-year sentence handed down to Momcilo Perisic and found him not guilty of involvement in some of the worst atrocities of the 1990s conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia.
“This is of a tremendous importance for Serbia and the Serbian people because it proves that Serbia didn’t carry out military aggression against Bosnia and Croatia,” Dacic said.
He added that Persic will be flown back to Belgrade by government plane on Friday after his immediate release was ordered by the ICTY.
The ICTY’s appeals chamber ruled on Thursday that Perisic was not responsible for the wartime crimes committed by the Bosnian Serb Army in Sarajevo and Srebrenica because it was not under the command of the Yugoslav Army.
It also found him not guilty of failing to punish his subordinates who participated in the shelling of the Croatian capital Zagreb.
Rasim Ljajic, head of the Serbian National Council for Cooperation with the ICTY, described The Hague’s ruling as “credible and good”.
“This is firstly a good decision for Perisic and his family, bearing in mind the gravity of the crimes he was charged with and the first instance verdict [which found him guilty and jailed him for 27 years in 2011],” Ljajic said.
Bruno Vekaric, Belgrade's deputy war crimes prosecutor, also said that he believes that the ICTY acquittal was very important for Serbia.
“It is important because the difference has been acknowledged between [Bosnian Serb] Army of Republika Srpska and Yugoslav Army,” Vekaric said.
Explaining the verdict, Judge Theodor Meron said that the “Army of Republika Srpska was neither de jure nor de facto subordinate to the Yugoslav Army”, indicating that Perisic was not responsible for any atrocities committed by Bosnian Serb forces.
“We believe the decision has been made according to the facts. This is important for Serbia and for Perisic because it has been proven that, as the most senior official of the Yugoslav Army, he obeyed the international customs of war,” Vekaric added.
Veselin Sljivancanin, a former Yugoslav Army colonel who was convicted of war crimes in the Croatian town of Vukovar, couldn’t hide his excitement at Perisic’s acquittal.
“As soon as I heard the news, I sent him a message: ‘Bravo, General!’,” Sljivancanin told local media.
Perisic's lawyer, Novica Lukic, told journalists after the verdict that it came as “a surprise” to him.
“I think this verdict is significant as it will break prejudices that there was direct involvement of Yugoslav Army and its leadership in criminal acts during the war in Bosnia and Croatia,” Lukic said.
High-profile acquittals by the Hague Tribunal last year of Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac and former Kosovo Liberation Army commander Ramsh Haradinaj had intensified feelings in Belgrade that the international court was biased against Serbs and implemented selective justice.