BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — A former chief of the Yugoslav army said Friday he hopes a U.N. court's decision to overturn his conviction on war crimes charges will help clear Serbia's image internationally.
In a stunning reversal Thursday, U.N. appeals judges at The Hague, Netherlands, acquitted Gen. Momcilo Perisic of aiding and abetting atrocities by rebel Serbs, including the Srebrenica massacre, by providing them with military aid during the Balkan wars.
The former close ally of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had been sentenced to 27 years in 2011, after being convicted of crimes including murder, inhumane acts and persecution. The original conviction marked the first time the U.N. court had found a civilian or military officer from Serbia guilty of war crimes in Bosnia, and was seen as highlighting the Yugoslav army's far-reaching support for Serb forces in both Bosnia and Croatia.
The reversal is a rare victory for Serbs at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, where most of the convicted suspects have been rebel Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia. It also supported Belgrade's often-stated assertion that it did not deliberately assist in Bosnian Serb atrocities.
Perisic, who surrendered voluntarily to the Hague court in 2005, returned home in a government plane and spoke to the media at the VIP lounge of the airport in Belgrade. No top officials showed up to greet him. He said he surrendered in order to "defend the honor of the army, the country and its people."
"I view this as my humble contribution to help Serbia take its rightful place in the international community, and for our people to be finally cleared of the accusations of violations of the international law," he said.
Perisic's acquittal has angered Muslim officials in Bosnia, who have long held Serbia responsible for the military advances of the Bosnian Serbs during the country's 1992-95 war. In the eastern town of Srebrenica, in 1995, Bosnian Serb troops killed 8,000 Muslim men and boys, which became Europe's worst crime since World War II.
Perisic was Serbia's military chief from 1993 until 1998, three years after the war in Bosnia ended. Then he turned against Milosevic and warned against fomenting conflict in Kosovo, where fighting erupted after he left his post. Perisic also played an active role in a pro-democracy movement that ousted Milosevic from power in 2000.