SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — A Bosnian appeals court on Friday acquitted the wartime commander of Srebrenica who was accused of committing atrocities during the 1992-95 Balkan conflict.
Naser Oric was accused of killing three Serb prisoners of war in villages around Srebrenica in the early days of the conflict. His wartime deputy commander, Sabahudin Muhic, was also acquitted on the same charges.
The acquittal triggered angry reactions from Serbian officials.
“The fact that somebody was not sentenced for political reasons does not mean that he did not commit crimes,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said, adding that it is “obvious that for us Serbs there will be no justice.”
Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin said that the “acquittal of the proven killer” means that all those who murdered Serbs during the Bosnian war are being pardoned.
Oric is seen as a hero by many Muslim Bosnians for his role in defending Srebrenica where around 8,000 Muslims men and boys were massacred by Serb forces in 1995.
The Srebrenica massacre, the worst single atrocity in Europe since World War II, was defined as genocide by the U.N. tribunal in the Hague, Netherlands.
Serb officials continue to claim the slaughter was an act of revenge after soldiers under Oric’s command killed thousands of Serbs in the villages surrounding the eastern town.
Hundreds of Oric’s supports, chanting “hero, not a war criminal,” gathered in front of the courthouse during the verdict’s announcement. Police guarded a bus that drove Serbs to the trial, which opened in January 2016.
A panel of judges ruled that the prosecution didn’t present evidence proving the case against Oric.
Oric’s lawyer Lejla Covic said the acquittal was expected.
“We are absolutely satisfied,” she said.
This was the second time that Oric was acquitted in a trial. Oric had also been tried by the U.N. war crimes tribunal where he was also acquitted in 2008.