UN court acquits Serb officials of war

UN court acquits Serb officials of war

THE HAGUE - Agence France-Presse
UN court acquits Serb officials of war

Franko Simatovic (top R), Milosevic’s field officer and Jovica Stanisic (top C), ex-intel chief, have been acquitted of all charges of war crimes. REUTERS photo

A U.N. tribunal acquitted May 30 late Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic’s intelligence chief and his deputy of running Bosnian death squads during ex-Yugoslavia’s brutal 1990s conflict, saying they could not have known the units would commit such crimes.

Belgrade immediately hailed the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia’s (ICTY) latest acquittal, saying it fostered “conditions for reconciliation, peace and stability in the Balkans.”

Five accounts of war crimes

“The Chamber found that the prosecution had not proven beyond reasonable doubt that the accused planned or ordered the crimes charged in the indictment,” Dutch judge Alphons Orie told the Yugoslav war crimes court, ordering their immediate release. The release of intelligence chief Jovica Stanisic, 62, and co-accused Franko Simatovic, 63, is the latest in a string of acquittals by the ICTY. Prosecutors had sought life in prison. The defendants gave their lawyers emotional hugs once it became clear that they were free men. Stanisic and key aide Simatovic each faced five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their roles in the war that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991, which killed 100,000 people and left some 2.2 million others without a home.

Prosecutors accused the two of organizing, financing and supplying Serb paramilitary groups, including an elite unit called the “Red Berets” and the feared paramilitary outfit run by Zeljko Raznatovic, called “Arkan’s Tigers,” between April 1991 and the end of 1995.

These units cut a swathe of terror and destruction across Croatia and Bosnia as they attacked towns and murdered Croats, Muslims and other non-Serbs to force them from large areas in Croatia and Bosnia to create a Serb-run state, prosecutors said.