General Ante Gotovina, the most senior Croatian officer convicted of war crimes during the Balkan Wars, is back on home soil after being freed by a UN appeals court on Friday.
The former Army commander was acquitted along with the former head of the Croatian special police, Mladen Marackac.
The men, who received a red-carpet reception on arrival, had been given 24-year and 18-year sentences respectively at the original trial, for their actions during Operation Storm in 1995.
Prosecutors had accused Gotovina of targeting hospitals and civilian institutions during the US and NATO backed operation to retake Croatia’s Krajina region from rebel Serbs.
The appeals court said the institutions had not been internationally targeted, ruling: “Without a finding that the artillery attacks were unlawful, the trial chamber’s conclusion that a joint criminal enterprise existed cannot be sustained.”
The aquittal further strains the relationship between Serbia and Croatia, the two main actors of the Yugoslav wars.