BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Former Yugoslav army general Vlado Trifunovic, whose treason conviction by Serbia's wartime nationalist leadership became a symbol of the senselessness of the 1990s' Balkan conflict, has died, Serbia's state broadcaster reported. He was 78.
Trifunovic, a native of Bosnia, reportedly died on Sunday in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. No other details were immediately available.
Trifunovic was in charge of a Yugoslav army unit in the town of Varazdin in independence-seeking Croatia as war broke out there in 1991. He disobeyed orders from Belgrade to fight and instead negotiated a safe passage for his troops.
Yugoslavia's once multi-ethnic military became dominated by Serbs and controlled from Belgrade after the western republics of Slovenia and Croatia declared independence in 1991.
Trifunovic was convicted of treason by the nationalist government of Serbia's then-President Slobodan Milosevic. But anti-war Serbs hailed Trifunovic as a hero for saving the soldiers' lives.
"Varazdin would have been destroyed if I gave the orders to fight," Trifunovic told The Associated Press in 2010. "My soldiers and I would probably have ended up in some mass grave that would become a symbol of Serb-Croat hatred."
The opposing views of Trifunovic's move mirror the divisions that still exist in Serbia over the country's role in the war that claimed more than 100,000 lives and left millions homeless.
His conviction was thrown out in 2010, years after Milosevic was ousted from power and handed over to a United Nations war crimes court to face a genocide trial. Milosevic died in his cell in The Hague, Netherlands in 2006.
Croatia and Slovenia accused Trifunovic of war crimes, further reflecting the animosities among the former Yugoslav republics following the breakup.
Largely forgotten, Trifunovic spent most of his postwar years in a drab Belgrade hotel occupied by Serbs expelled from other former Yugoslav republics.
Serbia's state TV says Trifunovic will be buried in Bosnia.