The UN's International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ruled that Serbia and Croatia did not commit acts of genocide during the Croatian war of secession from Yugoslavia.
Court President Peter Tomka delivered the verdict in the landmark case in The Hague on February 3.
He said forces on both sides carried out violent acts during the 1991-95 war, but that neither side provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate the "specific intent required for acts of genocide."
Judge Tomka said the acts committed by the Serbs were not intended to "destroy" the Croatian ethnic group in certain areas of Croatia claimed by Serbs, but to "move them by force."
The 17-judge panel also ruled that Serbia failed to prove an act of genocide was committed against the Serbian population during a 1995 military offensive to seize back territory from rebel Serbs.
After the announcement of the verdict, Serbian Justice Minister Nikola Selakovic told journalists in The Hague, "This marks the end of one page on the past, and I'm convinced we will start a new page on the future, much brighter and better."
Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic said she hoped the ruling would contribute to "closing this historic chapter and moving on to a better and safer period for people in this part of Europe."
In Zagreb, however, Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic expressed disappointment, saying, "We are not satisfied with the court's ruling, but we accept it in a civilized manner."
Speaking to journalists in Belgrade, Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic voiced hope for lasting peace in the Balkans, saying, "I hope that in the future Serbia and Croatia will have the strength to jointly resolve all that is hampering the possibility of establishing a period of lasting peace and prosperity in our region."
Decisions by the ICJ are final and legally binding.
Serbian Justice Minister Nikola Selkovic, Ambassador Petar Vico, and Sasa Obradovic were part of that country's delegation in the ICJ courtroom in The Hague on February 3.
Zagreb brought its case to the court in 1999, asking judges to order Belgrade to pay compensation.
It accused Serbs, led by President Slobodan Milosevic, of targeting ethnic Croats in the town of Vukovar and elsewhere in 1991.
Serbia later filed its countersuit in 2010, saying ethnics Serbs were expelled when Croatia launched an operation to retake territory captured by Serbs.
The Croatian military bombarded the majority ethnic Serb Krajina area in Operation Storm, forcing about 200,000 people from their homes.
The 1991-95 war involved Croatian forces loyal to the government in Zagreb, which had declared independence from Yugoslavia, the Serb-controlled Yugoslav army, and Croatian Serb forces.
Speaking at the ICJ's headquarters, the Peace Palace, Tomka said many crimes happened during the conflict that has killed some 20,000 people.
He said the court "encourages the parties to continue their cooperation with a view to offering appropriate reparation to the victims of such violations, thus consolidating peace and stability in the region."
Relations between Croatia and Serbia have improved in recent years.
Croatia joined the European Union in 2013, and Serbia is seeking EU membership.
On February 1, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic described the upcoming verdict as "one of perhaps the most important events" for bilateral relations.
He told reporters it would "put an end to both sides' fight to prove who the worst criminal is."
Croatian Justice Minister Orsat Miljenic has said the government's main goal was to "present what happened in the war and that was aggression against Croatia."
With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP