A court in Bosnia-Herzegovina has acquitted Naser Oric, the commander of Bosnian Muslim troops in the Srebrenica area during Bosnia's 1990s conflict, of war crimes charges.
The state war crimes court in Sarajevo acquitted Oric, 50, of the charge of killing three ethnic Serb prisoners of war in the Srebrenica area in 1992.
Another Bosnian Army soldier, Sabahudin Muhic, was also found not guilty.
"The accused Naser Oric and Sabahudin Muhic have been acquitted of charges of violating provisions of the Geneva Conventions," Judge Saban Maksumic told the court.
The judge said that the testimony of a protected witness, which was crucial to the indictment, lacked credibility.
Relatives of the victims walked out the courtroom in protest against the verdict, which also sparked outrage from the leader of Bosnian Serbs and Belgrade.
"I have nothing to say, the court said what it had to say," Oric said after leaving the tribunal as he was welcomed by supporters.
Oric is seen as a hero by many Bosniaks for his role in defending Muslims during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, in which more than 100,000 people were killed.
Srebrenica fell in 1995 to Bosnian Serb troops who killed more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys there in what is considered Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.
In 1995, the U.S.-brokered Dayton accords mostly ended the violence, with Bosnia being split into two entities -- the Muslim-Croat Federation of Bosnian Muslims and Croats and the ethnic Serb-dominated Republika Srpska.
Republika Srpska's nationalist leader, President Milorad Dodik, said the verdict was "proof that in Bosnia there is no punishment for criminals [committing crimes] against Serbs."
He suggested that the ruling will likely "revive the idea of holding a referendum" on ethnic Serbs' participation in Bosnia's judicial bodies.
Vinko Lale, the head of an association of Serbian prisoners of war, told AFP news agency that Oric's acquittal will "radicalize the situation on the political field."
Meanwhile, the chairman of Bosnia's three-man presidency, Dragan Covic, a Bosnian Croat, said negative rhetoric over the case could be a setback for the country's progress.
In neighboring Serbia, Justice Minister Nela Kuburovic called the ruling "shameful," while Defense Minister Vulin accused the Sarajevo court of "jeopardizing peace, security, trust, reconciliation in the whole Balkans."
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague (ICTY) sentenced Oric to two years in prison in 2006 for failing to prevent the murder and inhumane treatment of Serbian prisoners, but he was immediately released because he had already served the time.
In 2008, the UN court's appeals chamber overturned the verdict and cleared Oric.
Unhappy with the ex-commander’s acquittal, Belgrade in 2014 launched an international warrant over the killing of nine Serb civilians near Srebrenica in 1992.
Switzerland arrested Oric in 2015 on the warrant issued by Serbia but extradited him to Bosnia to face charges, a decision that caused anger in Belgrade. His trial started in Sarajevo in January 2016.
With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and BalkanInsight