November 16, 2012 / 8:58 AM / 6 years ago

Hague appeal tribunal frees jailed Croatian officers

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - An appeals court overturned on Friday the conviction of the most senior Croatian military officer charged with war crimes during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s.

Ante Gotovina (R), who was commander in the Split district of the Croatian army, talks in the courtroom of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) before his appeal judgement in The Hague November 16, 2012. REUTERS/Bas Czerwinski/Pool

Ante Gotovina, who was commander in the Split district of the Croatian army, had been jailed for 24 years.

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The conviction of Mladen Markac, a Croatian police commander who had been serving an 18-year sentence, was also overturned.

The two had been convicted of crimes against humanity and war crimes during the wars that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia. Judges ordered the pair’s immediate release.

Following their conviction by the Yugoslavia tribunal’s trial chamber last year, the two appealed to its appeals court. This upheld their claim that they had not been part of a joint criminal enterprise with the aim of permanently removing Serbian civilians from the Krajina region of Croatia.

Prosecutors had claimed the shelling of the town of Knin and three other towns was part of a plan designed to drive out ethnic Serbs.

Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Robert Woodward

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