UN Court: Serbia and Croatia didn't commit genocide in 1990s

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UN Genocide Decision: Serbia and Croatia
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UN Court: Serbia and Croatia didn't commit genocide in 1990s
The International Court of Justice in the Hague said Tuesday both Serbia and Croatia committed atrocities in the early 1990s, but not genocide.
OSIJEK, CROATIA: Zeljko 'Arkan' Raznatovic (R), commander of the Serbian volunteery units, and his son MIhailo, check their weapons before heading for a patrol on the front line in the area aournd Osijek, in Serb-held eastern Slavonia, 11 June 1995. Serb warlord Zeljko Raznatovic, known as Arkan aims a submachine gun 17 June 1995 in Osijek, a Serb-held area of Slavonia, a region in eastern Croatia, during a training session of his paramilitary group. In 1990, Arkan set up the Serbian Volunteer Guard or Tigers, highly trained and well-equipped paramilitary group known as Arkan's Tigers to defend Serb interests in Croatia and Bosnia during the break-up of the Yugoslav federation. Arkan was gunned down in Belgrade in January 2000. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken in November 1991 in the Croatian town of Vukovar shows Yugoslav army captain Miroslav Radic (R) listening to a report of a Serbian paramilitary. Beta news agency reported 21 April 2003 that Radic, indicted by the UN tribunal for war crimes committed in 1991 in Vukovar has surrendered to authorities in Belgrade. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Member of the ''Arkan's Tigers'', Serb para-military group' stands over the bodies of three Croatian villagers whose throats were cut on November 24, 1991 at Laslovo, 18 kilometers from Osijek, capital of the occupied eastern Croatian province of Slavonia. eeljko Ražnatovic widely known as Arkan (April 17, 1952 - January 15, 2000), was a Serbian career criminal and later a paramilitary leader who was notable for organizing and leading a paramilitary force in the Yugoslav Wars. Arkan created a paramilitary group named the Serb Volunteer Guard under the auspices of the Yugoslav Peoples Army (JNA) general staff. Arkan was the leader of this newly founded unit, which was primarily made up of the football hooligans of his favourite club at the time, Red Star Belgrade. AFP PHOTO VINCENT AMALVY (Photo credit should read VINCENT AMALVY/AFP/Getty Images)
Serbian militia & Yugoslav Army tanks returning Croatian mortar & sniper fire, in civil war, re ethnic Serbs opposing living in independent Croatia. (Photo by Cynthia Johnson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Members of the ''Arkan's Tigers'', Serb para-military group', patrol on November 24, 1991 at Laslovo, 18 kilometers from Osijek, capital of the occupied eastern Croatian province of Slavonia. eeljko Ražnatovic widely known as Arkan (April 17, 1952 - January 15, 2000), was a Serbian career criminal and later a paramilitary leader who was notable for organizing and leading a paramilitary force in the Yugoslav Wars. Arkan created a paramilitary group named the Serb Volunteer Guard under the auspices of the Yugoslav Peoples Army (JNA) general staff. Arkan was the leader of this newly founded unit, which was primarily made up of the football hooligans of his favourite club at the time, Red Star Belgrade. AFP PHOTO VINCENT AMALVY (Photo credit should read VINCENT AMALVY/AFP/Getty Images)
Serbian soldiers shell Croatian targets from their positions on the Obrovac heights 09 February 1993. Obrovac is 70 kms (43 miles) from Knin, the capital of the Serb-held Krajina region. (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Serbian militia & Yugoslav Army tanks returning Croatian mortar & sniper fire, in civil war, re ethnic Serbs opposing living in independent Croatia. (Photo by Cynthia Johnson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
CROATIA - CIRCA 1992: War of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Vukovar (Croatia), besieged by the Serbs, March 1992. (Photo by Francoise De Mulder/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)
Croatian soldiers display ex-Yugoslavian army hand grenades (L) anti tanks rocket (R) in an army warehouse on May 05, 1995 in Pakrac, during a battle with Serbian forces. UN cease-fire Between Croatians and Serbian forces was arranged on January 2, 1992. The UN Security Council in February approved sending a 14,000-member peace-keeping force to monitor the agreement and protect the minority Serbs in Croatia. In a 1993 referendum, the Serb-occupied portion of Croatia (Krajina) resoundingly voted for integration with Serbs in Bosnia and Serbia proper. Although the Zagreb government and representatives of Krajina signed a cease-fire in March 1994, further negotiations broke down. In a lightning-quick operation, the Croatian army retook western Slavonia in May 1995. Similarly, in August, the central Croatian region of Krajina, held by Serbs, was returned to Zagreb's control. AFP PHOTO JOEL ROBINE (Photo credit should read JOEL ROBINE/AFP/Getty Images)
Justice Ministers Orsat Miljenic (L) of Croatia and Nikola Selkovic (R) of Serbia attend on February 3, 2015 the verdict of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in a long-running genocide case, seen as a landmark decision that could re-open old wounds between former foes Croatia and Serbia. Zagreb in 1999 dragged Belgrade before the ICJ on genocide charges relating to Croatia's war of independence that raged in 1991-95 following the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. Serbia was accused of ethnic cleansing as a 'form of genocide' at the time, leading to large numbers of Croats being displaced, killed or tortured and their property being destroyed. AFP PHOTO / ANP / ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN - netherlands out - (Photo credit should read ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN/AFP/Getty Images)
From left: Croatians Jana Spero of the Justice Ministry, Andreja Metelko-Zgombic representing the Justice Ministry, University of Rijeka professor Vesna Crnic-Grotic and Justice Minister Orsat Miljenic sit on February 3, 2015 in the courtroom of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague as the UN's highest courtbefore started to hand down its verdict in a long-running genocide case, seen as a landmark decision that could re-open old wounds between former foes Croatia and Serbia. Zagreb in 1999 dragged Belgrade before the ICJ on genocide charges relating to Croatia's war of independence that raged in 1991-95 following the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. Serbia was accused of ethnic cleansing as a 'form of genocide' at the time, leading to large numbers of Croats being displaced, killed or tortured and their property being destroyed. AFP PHOTO / ANP / ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN - netherlands out - (Photo credit should read ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN/AFP/Getty Images)
From left: Serbian Justice Minister Nikola Selkovic, ambassador Petar Vico and Sasa Obradovic of the delegation of Serbia sit on February 3, 2015 in the courtroom of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague as the UN's highest courtbefore started to hand down its verdict in a long-running genocide case, seen as a landmark decision that could re-open old wounds between former foes Croatia and Serbia. Zagreb in 1999 dragged Belgrade before the ICJ on genocide charges relating to Croatia's war of independence that raged in 1991-95 following the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. Serbia was accused of ethnic cleansing as a 'form of genocide' at the time, leading to large numbers of Croats being displaced, killed or tortured and their property being destroyed. AFP PHOTO / ANP / ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN - netherlands out - (Photo credit should read ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN/AFP/Getty Images)
From left: Croatians Jana Spero of the Justice Ministry, University of Rijeka professor Vesna Crnic-Grotic and Justice Minister Orsat Miljenic sit on February 3, 2015 in the courtroom of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague as the UN's highest courtbefore started to hand down its verdict in a long-running genocide case, seen as a landmark decision that could re-open old wounds between former foes Croatia and Serbia. Zagreb in 1999 dragged Belgrade before the ICJ on genocide charges relating to Croatia's war of independence that raged in 1991-95 following the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. Serbia was accused of ethnic cleansing as a 'form of genocide' at the time, leading to large numbers of Croats being displaced, killed or tortured and their property being destroyed. AFP PHOTO / ANP / ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN - netherlands out - (Photo credit should read ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN/AFP/Getty Images)
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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) -- The United Nations' top court ruled Tuesday that Serbia and Croatia did not commit genocide against each other's people during the bloody 1990s wars sparked by the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

The ruling could help put to rest lingering animosities between the Balkan neighbors.

The International Court of Justice said Serb forces committed widespread crimes in Croatia early in the war, but they did not amount to genocide. The 17-judge panel then ruled that a 1995 Croat offensive to win back territory from rebel Serbs also featured serious crimes, but did not reach the level of genocide.

Fighting in Croatia from 1991-95 left around 10,000 people dead and forced millions from their homes.

Tuesday's decision was not unexpected, as the U.N.'s Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, a separate court also based in The Hague, has never charged any Serbs or Croats with genocide in one another's territory.

Croatia brought the case to the world court in 1999, asking judges to order Belgrade to pay compensation. Serbia later filed a counterclaim, alleging genocide by Croat forces during the 1995 "Operation Storm" military campaign.

Rejecting both cases, court President Peter Tomka stressed that many crimes happened during fighting between Serbia and Croatia and urged Belgrade and Zagreb to work together toward a lasting reconciliation.

"The court encourages the parties to continue their cooperation with a view to offering appropriate reparation to the victims of such violations," Tomka told a packed Great Hall of Justice at the court's Hague headquarters, the Peace Palace.

Decisions by the International Court of Justice are final and legally binding.

Tomka said crimes including killings and mass expulsions by both sides constituted elements of the crime of genocide, but the judges ruled that neither Serbia nor Croatia carried out the crimes with the "specific intent" to destroy targeted populations.

Serbian Justice Minister Nikola Selkovic said the decision would usher in "a much better page in our bilateral relations," but his Croatian counterpart, Orsat Miljenic, was not so sure and urged Belgrade to do more to prosecute suspected war criminals.

"I don't see it as any changing or breakthrough moment," Miljenic told reporters at the court. "We are neighbors. We have to cooperate in as many areas as possible."

The case brought by Croatia was not the first time Serbia had faced allegations of genocide at the world court.

In a landmark 2007 judgment, judges cleared Belgrade of committing genocide in the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica, but said Serbia breached the genocide convention by failing to prevent the slaughter, Europe's worst mass slaying since World War II.

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