A former Bosnian warlord who fought fellow Muslims during his country's 1992-95 war was released from prison on Friday after serving two-thirds of his war crimes sentence.

About 3,000 cheering followers, who were mostly bused in from Bosnia, gathered in the coastal Croatian town of Pula to greet Fikret Abdic, also known as Babo, as he walked out of the local jail.

Abdic, once one of the richest men in Bosnia and a popular politician, was convicted in 2003 for participating in the detention and killing of fellow Muslims during the war. He was tried in Croatia and first sentenced to 20 years in prison. His sentence was later shortened to 15 years.

Abdic was one of the most controversial figures in Bosnia before and during the war.

In former communist-run Yugoslavia, Abdic headed a food produce company that was declared bankrupt in 1987 in one of the biggest financial scandals in the former federation. Abdic was jailed for alleged fraud.

When the war started, Abdic turned against the central government in Sarajevo, forming an autonomous region around his northwestern stronghold of Velika Kladusa in 1993.

The verdict against Abdic said that about 5,000 people were detained in the prison camps in the area, and at least three of them died as a result of torture there.

Abdic said upon release that he will stay in Croatia for a while, but plans eventually to return to Velika Kladusa and revive economy there.

____

Jovana Gec contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.