PALE, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Singing Serbian national songs and waving flags, more than 2,000 people welcomed convicted war criminal Momcilo Krajisnik home as a national hero on Friday evening.
He returned to Bosnia after being granted early release from a British prison where he had served two thirds of his 20-year sentence.
"It's like a dream. You have no idea how beautiful this country is," he told reporters.
But he also said he does not understand what this giant party was about. "After all, I am a war criminal," said 68-year-old Krajisnik.
He was arrested in 2000 and convicted by the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, of persecuting and forcibly expelling non-Serbs during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia. His initial 27-year sentence was reduced on appeal.
The former Bosnian Serb Parliament speaker was granted early release by the tribunal's president, Theodor Meron, in July.
Krajisnik first landed in the Bosnian Serb city of Banja Luka, and a government helicopter then flew him home to his wartime stronghold of Pale, near Sarajevo.
Supporters arrived by bus from all over the Bosnian Serb part of the country to welcome him, and convoys of cars cruised Pale streets all afternoon, with people waving Serb flags through windows, honking horns and stopping at the main square, where Serbian nationalists songs were blaring from loudspeakers.
Milorad Ugrinovic, 60, arrived from the northern town of Laktasi. "We gathered to show support for Mr. Krajisnik, who did not deserve to sit for so long in some jail. Instead he deserves the support of the entire Serb people because he sacrificed himself for the Serb people," said Ugrinovic.
Many Serbs refuse to realize or accept that their side committed most or even any of the war crimes during the Bosnian war, despite the findings of international courts. The fact that most of the war criminals convicted by the U.N. Tribunal are Serbs is interpreted as an international anti-Serb conspiracy, rather than a real picture of the distribution of guilt.
The welcome home party in Pale was organized by the Serb Democratic Party, which Krajisnik was member of. He was the closest ally of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic who is now on trial at the Tribunal for alleged genocide and other crimes.
Bosnia is made up of Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats, and Krajisnik's sentence said he was part of a joint criminal enterprise that sought to ethnically reorganize the territories under the Bosnian Serb Republic's control by cutting the proportion of non-Serbs.
The decision to release him after he served two-thirds of his sentence contained a report from the U.K. prison authorities that said Krajisnik was a "model prisoner" who during his term learned English, took part in a Bible study group, and used the gym to keep fit. He told prison authorities he plans to work in Pale at a gas station owned by his children. In a letter Krajisnik wrote in March asking for early release, he said he stands "prepared to help seek reconciliation between the three peoples in Bosnia-Herzegovina."
Non-Serbs in Bosnia were outraged by Friday's pompous welcome party.
Hatidza Mehmedovic, a widow who lost family members during the Srebrenica massacre of Muslim men, said of the ceremony: "This encourages future blood spilling and some future genocide."
Muslim Bosnian politician Fahrudin Radoncic said he does not know what Krajisnik will be doing in the future, but he hopes "he will not get involved in politics and especially not the politics he used to pursue."