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Judge Overturns Croatian Generals' War Crimes Sentence

People celebrate after appeals court overturns convictions of Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac in Zagreb, November 16, 2012.
Appeals judges at the U.N. Yugoslav war crimes court have overturned the convictions of two former Croatian generals on charges of war crimes committed during the 1991-to-1995 Balkans war.

The Hague court acquitted Ante Gotovian and Mladen Markac Friday.

Gotovian and Markac, were sentenced to 24 and 18 years, respectively, in 2011. The lengthy prison sentences had been sharpy criticized by the Zagreb government.

At last year's trial, a third general, Ivan Cermak, was acquitted. He returned to the Croatian capital, Zagreb, where he was greeted by Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor.

Friday's ruling is the latest development concerning "Operation Storm", a Croatian offensive carried out in 1995 to reclaim the republic of Krajina from Serb control. The late Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman, was reported to have been a key member of what was described as a "joint criminal operation," during which hundreds of Serb civilians were killed and thousands of others driven from their homes.

Though many Croats consider the two convicted generals to be national heroes and the operation they directed to be the legitimate liberation of Croatian territory, the Zagreb government agreed to cooperate with the U.N. probe to help pave the way for membership in the European Union.