UN court acquits Yugoslav army chief Perisic on appeal

A UN war crimes tribunal on Thursday acquitted Yugoslav ex-army chief Momcilo Perisic on appeal and overturned his 27-year sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the bloody Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Judge Theodor Meron of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) appeals chamber ordered "the immediate release of Momcilo Perisic", a former right-hand man of late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

Perisic, 68, the Yugoslav army's highest-ranking officer, was in 2011 found guilty of 12 of 13 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The charges included helping the Bosnian Serb army murder and persecute Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica, scene of Europe's worst wartime atrocity since World War II, and the shelling and sniping of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo during its infamous siege from 1992-95 and the siege of Croatia's Zagreb.

But the appeals chamber on Thursday ruled that "Mr Perisic's convictions for aiding and abetting must be reversed on the ground that not all the elements of aiding and abetting have been proven beyond reasonable doubt," according to Meron.

"Mr Perisic was not proved beyond reasonable doubt to have facilitated assistance specifically directed towards VRS (Bosnian Serb army) crimes in Sarajevo and Srebrenica," Meron said.

"Instead, a reasonable interpretation of the record is that VJ (Yugoslav army) aid facilitated by Mr Perisic was directed towards the Bosnian Serb army's general war effort rather than VRS crimes."

Perisic, dressed in a charcoal suit, light blue shirt and black-and-white spotted tie showed no emotion as the verdict was read.

The judgement is the latest in a string of acquittals at the ICTY, but the freeing of a Serbian military leader will be welcomed in Belgrade where the court has been perceived as biased.

Perisic's acquittal means that no official from the Belgrade-controlled Yugoslav republic has now been convicted for crimes committed in Bosnia.

jhe-cjo/mfp