The UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague has acquitted former Serbian intelligence chief Jovica Stanisic and his deputy, both of whom had been charged with committing war crimes in Bosnia and Croatia during the 1990s.
Judge Alphons Orie on May 30 ordered the immediate release of Stanisic and his onetime deputy, Franko Simatovic.
He said the court found the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the two men, both former allies of the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, had “planned or ordered” the crimes charged in their indictments.
Judges also said there was insufficient evidence to show they helped soldiers commit war crimes.
The two had been accused of organizing, financing, and supplying Serb paramilitary groups that were active in Bosnia and Croatia.
These units deported and murdered non-Serbs as part of a plan to create a Serb-run state in areas of Bosnia and Croatia during the Balkan wars that followed the 1991 breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
Prosecutors had sought life sentences.
Both men had been extradited to The Hague in 2003.
Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic welcomed the ruling.
Dacic said the Serbian government has always insisted that all suspects before the Hague tribunal should get a fair trial "as the only way to establish the truth about the war, for reconciliation and ensuring lasting peace and stability in the region "
Mirsad Tokaca, head of Bosnian Research and Documentation center, called it "absurd."
"Even when you listen to the explanation, it is clear that we are talking about people who were deeply involved in all war preparations and that they were in charge of operational units, especially in places like Sanica, Doboj, around Vukovar, and other places," Tokaca said of the defendants, "and [to say] that it did not qualify for a joint criminal enterprise it's unbelievable. I hope that an appeal process will change that."
Sonja Biserko, the head of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, also was strongly critical.
"The verdict is surprising to all those who deeply suffered in Croatia and particularly in Bosnia," Biserko said. "It is a rather strange Hague tribunal's exit strategy to acquit high-profile suspects in the last round. It looks as if the people of Bosnia organized the war themselves and that Serbia was not involved in it -- exactly in line with what it has been claiming all along -- although it has 400,000 war veterans whom nobody cares about."
The May 30 verdicts come three months after appeals judges at the UN tribunal acquitted the former chief of staff of the Yugoslav national army, Momcilo Perisic, of aiding and abetting atrocities by rebel Serbs in Bosnia.
Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP, and RFE/RL's Balkan Service