SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Bosnia's war crimes court on Monday acquitted the wartime commander of Srebrenica, who was accused of committing atrocities against Serbs during the 1992-95 Balkan conflict.
The acquittal of Naser Oric immediately prompted anger from Serbian leaders, with Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin saying the court ruling "threatens security, trust and reconciliation in the whole of the Balkans."
Oric was accused of war crimes against three Serb prisoners of war who were slain in villages around the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in the early days of the conflict. A panel of judges presiding over the trial ruled Monday the prosecution did not present evidence proving the case against Oric.
Oric had previously been tried by a U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, where he was also acquitted in 2008.
Oric is seen as a hero by many Muslim Bosnians for his role in defending Srebrenica, where Serb forces massacred some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in 1995. The Srebrenica massacre, the worst single atrocity in Europe since World War II, is the only episode of Bosnia's war to be defined as genocide by two U.N. courts.
Serbs continue to claim the 1995 Srebrenica slaughter was an act of revenge by uncontrolled troops because they say that soldiers under Oric's command killed thousands of Serbs in the villages surrounding the eastern town.
"It is clear that we will have to fight for justice ourselves," said Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
Still, he urged Serbs not to "utter a hard word against Bosniak Muslim) neighbors so that we can build friendship with them and build a future together with them."
Bosnian Serb political leader Milorad Dodik said Oric's acquittal showed there was no justice for Serbs.
He called on Serb judges and prosecutors to abandon their posts in Bosnia's top court and prosecution office and urged all Bosnian Serb political representatives "to gather around the cause of declaring the (two institutions) illegitimate."
The Bosnian war pitted the country's three main ethnic factions — Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims — against each other after Bosnia split from what was then Yugoslavia. More than 100,000 people were killed in the conflict before a peace deal was brokered in 1995.
AP Writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.