Bosnian Serbs give hero welcome to released war criminal Momcilo Krajisnik

Bosnian Serbs give hero welcome to released war criminal Momcilo Krajisnik

PALE, Bosnia-Hercegovina - Agence France-Presse
Bosnian Serbs give hero welcome to released war criminal Momcilo Krajisnik

People cheer as they welcome Bosnian Serb politician Momcilo Krajisnik on his arrival in his hometown Pale, Aug. 30. AFP photo

Bosnian Serb leader Momcilo Krajisnik returned to his hometown on Aug. 30 to a hero's welcome, and was greeted by several thousand well-wishers after serving two-thirds of a 20-year sentence for war crimes.

Streets in Pale were covered with billboards saying "Welcome home!" while hundreds waved Serbian flags and others sang Serb nationalist songs.

Upon arrival, Krajisnik briefly addressed the crowd, calling on them to give up "hatred... and offer our hand to everyone who wants reconciliation."

"We all should forgive those who have done evil to us and ask those we have done evil things to forgive us," grey-haired 68-year old Krajisnik said.

Krajisnik was convicted by The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) of persecuting and forcibly expelling non-Serbs and crimes against humanity committed during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia.

His initial 27-year sentence was reduced on appeal and in July, he was granted early release from a British prison where he served his sentence.

A former key ally of Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic, Krajisnik has been given credit for time spent in detention since his arrest and transfer to the ICTY in April 2000.

Bosnian Serb state TV broadcast live his arrival at Banja Luka before he was transported by an official helicopter to Serb wartime stronghold Pale.

"He is a great man, honest... He could not have been a criminal," said 52-year old Bosnian Serb Radovan Vukovic.

War victims slam ceremony

While Bosnian Serbs were celebrating Krajisnik's return, Muslims and Croats who saw him as one of the key architects of the former Yugoslav republic's bloody war, were not.

His welcome in Pale was a "direct insult to the victims who have survived horrible tortures by the regime", said Jasmin Meskovic from Bosnia's Association of prisoners of war.


Momcilo Krajisnik smiles as he is welcomed
back in his hometown Pale on Aug. 30.
AFP photo  

Upon arrival, Krajisnik apparently ruled out any possibility to return to politics, saying that he would rather be involved in his family's private business.

But he indicated he would seek a "revision" of his war crimes conviction, without revealing further details. Krajisnik pleaded not guilty to all charges at the start of his trial before the U.N. war crimes court.

The ICTY found Krajisnik to have been at the centre of a campaign to "ethnically recompose" targeted territories of Bosnia by reducing the number of Muslims and Croats there.

Having founded the nationalist Serbian Democratic Party with Karadzic, Krajisnik later became president of the Bosnian Serb assembly.
In November 2008, Karadzic testified as a defence witness in the appeal hearing of his one-time ally. He said Krajisnik was not a senior decision maker.

Karadzic, as well as his wartime military chief Ratko Mladic, himself faces 11 charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in Bosnia's inter-ethnic 1992-95 war which cost an estimated 100,000 lives.

Krajisnik is the second senior Bosnian Serb official who was released after serving a war crimes sentence.

Former Bosnian Serb president Biljana Plavsic - the first and only woman ever to be convicted by the ICTY - pleaded guilty to crimes against humanity and was sentenced to 11 years in jail.

Now 83-year-old, she was granted an early release in 2009 and now lives out her days in the Serbian capital Belgrade, far from the public eye.