Srebrenica Muslim chief cleared

The Hague - The ex-commander of Bosnian Muslim forces in Srebrenica, Naser Oric, has had his war crimes conviction quashed by the UN tribunal in The Hague.

He was convicted of failing to prevent men under his command killing and mistreating six Bosnian Serb prisoners.

His alleged crimes took place well before the 1995 Bosnian Serb massacre of nearly 8,000 Srebrenica Muslims.

Between 1992 and 1993 he commanded troops who allegedly destroyed 50 Serb villages, causing thousands to flee.

But judges at The Hague ruled the first trial had failed to prove he had control over the men.

Former bodyguard

"The appeals chamber... reverses Naser Oric's conviction," said Judge Wolfgang Schomburg of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

The 41-year-old ex-bodyguard to former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was convicted two years ago but given a two-year sentence - much less than that demanded by the prosecution.

He was ordered to be immediately released because of time he had already spent in custody.

Many Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) regard him as a hero, and believe the decision to prosecute him was made to counter complaints by Serbs that the tribunal was biased against them, correspondents say.

Mr Oric was commander of the Bosnian Muslim forces in the town of Srebrenica from May 1992 onwards, while the city was under siege from Bosnian Serb forces.

Mr Oric's lawyers said the attacks on Serb villages were legitimate actions against military and strategic targets, or operations to obtain food for the starving population of Srebrenica.

In 1995, thousands of Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica were killed by Bosnian Serb troops, despite the presence of Dutch UN peacekeepers.