The acquittal of former Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff Momcilo Perisic sparks mixed reactions throughout the region.
By Igor Jovanovic and Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade and Zagreb -- 04/03/13
Former General Momcilo Perisic speaks with reporters after his release on Thursday (February 28th). [AFP]
The release of General Momcilo Perisic, Yugoslavia Army chief of staff in the 1990s, will likely bolster Serbia's defense against a genocide lawsuit filed by Croatia in the International Court of Justice, Belgrade officials said.
The July 1999 lawsuit was filed against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at the international court, claiming "a form of genocide which resulted in large numbers of Croatian citizens being displaced, killed, tortured, or illegally detained as well as extensive property destruction" by Serb forces during the 1991-1995 Croatian conflict.
Serbia is considered Yugoslavia's legal successor following the transformation of Yugoslavia into Serbia and Montenegro, and the dissolution of that union in 2006.
Bruno Vekaric, Serbia's deputy war crimes prosecutor, said Perisic's acquittal shows "a clear distance" between the Yugoslav and Republika Srpska armies.
"It is very important that it was determined, through this verdict, that General Perisic had not violated the customs of war, nor had he violated international conventions as a member of the Yugoslav Army," Vekaric told SETimes.
Perisic was acquitted of charges by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on Thursday (February 28th), after being sentenced to 27 years in prison in 2011.
During his trial, Perisic was found guilty of aiding and abetting crimes in Srebrenica and Sarajevo between 1993 and 1995, as well as of being the superior officer in the shelling of Zagreb in May 1995.
On Thursday, the ICTY Appeals Chamber said in a 4-1 vote that Perisic provided military support to Republika Srpska militia forces in BiH, but that he had not ordered them to commit war crimes.
A woman from Srebrenica cries in front of the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal (ICTY) after former General Momcilo Perisic was released. [AFP]
Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said the verdict was very important because it rejected the accusations that the Yugoslav Army was the aggressor against BiH and Croatia.
"That is finally some good news from The Hague," Dacic told the Belgrade media.
Luka Misetic, the attorney who defended Croatian General Ante Gotovina before the criminal tribunal, said that even before Perisic's acquittal Belgrade's responsibility for crimes in Croatia and BiH had been determined.
"[T]he tribunal found that Belgrade had been involved in a joint criminal enterprise in both Croatia and BiH, which included not only [former Yugoslavia President Slobodan] Milosevic, but also Yugoslav People's Army commander Veljko Kadijevic and chief of staff Blagoje Adzic," Misetic told Croatian news agency Hina.
Bakira Hasencic, president of the Association of Victims of the War in BiH, said that the verdict is a disgrace.
"This is outrageous. I was shocked when I heard the news. That man is responsible for killing our innocent families. This is not a good message for the future and we will never achieve the reconciliation with such verdicts," she told SETimes.
Krstan Simic, former judge of the Constitutional Court of BiH said the verdict is good news for Serbs in BiH.
"This verdict can now serve as a proof that Belgrade was not commanding with the Army of Bosnian Serbs, that is, that the Army of Republika Srpska operated independently," Simic told SETimes.
Some citizens' views in the region were mixed.
Nada Topalovic, 32, said that, at least in this case, justice was served. "I think it is now clear that Serbia is not responsible for the worst crimes in BiH and that is quite a relief," she told SETimes.
"I hope that our authorities will arrest this general if he ever comes in Croatia. Thanks to this Hague verdict, we will never know who is responsible for war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia," Drago Sakan from Zagreb told SETimes.