UN court acquits Serbia intelligence chiefs of war crimes

Franko Simatovic at The Hague in 2003 Frank Simatovic was transferred to The Hague in 2003.

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A UN tribunal at The Hague has found two former Serbian intelligence chiefs not guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic were accused of directing several Serbian units in committing atrocities during the Balkans conflict in the 1990s.

Both men denied charges including murder and ethnic cleansing.

Judges acquitted them on all counts and ordered their immediate release.

Powerful men

The high-ranking Serb officials, who were allies of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, were accused of training and funding violent paramilitary groups responsible for mass killings and torture during the conflict.

Mr Stanisic, 62, was Mr Milosevic's one-time state security chief and seen as one of the country's most powerful men.

Mr Simatovic, 63, a former counter-intelligence officer in the Serbian State Security Services, was transferred to The Hague a decade ago, following the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

Jovica Stanisic takes his seat during his initial appearance at International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in June 2003. Jovica Stanisic is a former counter-intelligence officer in the Serbian State Security Services

Prosecutors had called for life sentences for both men.

But the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) said there was insufficient evidence to show that either man had assisted soldiers who were allegedly responsible for murder and other crimes in Bosnia and Croatia.

In summing up, the presiding judge Alphons Orie acknowledged that the crimes had been committed but said there was insufficient evidence to prove the accused were directly responsible.

The verdicts are highly significant, says the BBC's Anna Holligan in The Hague.

Prosecutors failed to convince the judges that there was any Serbian state responsibility in the mass killings of non-Serbs by the notorious Serb paramilitary brigades, our correspondent says.

The ICTY's ruling comes three months after appeal judges at The Hague acquitted the former chief of the Yugoslav National Army of aiding and abetting atrocities by rebel Serbs in Bosnia.

Momcilo Perisic, who commanded the Yugoslav army during the wars in Bosnia and Croatia, had been found guilty and sentenced to 27 years for crimes against humanity after a trial in 2011.

Thursday's verdict may help to restore faith among Serbs in the neutrality of the special court. Many have accused the tribunal being weighted against them.

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