Bosnian Serb leader Momcilo Krajisnik returned to his hometown on Friday to a hero’s welcome, and was greeted by several thousand well-wishers after serving two-thirds of a 20-year sentence for war crimes.
Streets in Pale were covered with billboards saying “Welcome home!” while hundreds waved Serbian flags and others sang Serbian nationalist songs.
Upon arrival, Krajisnik briefly addressed the crowd, calling on them to give up “hatred ... and offer our hand to everyone who wants reconciliation.”
“We all should forgive those who have done evil to us and ask those we have done evil things to forgive us,” the 68-year old Krajisnik said.
Krajisnik was convicted by The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) of persecuting and forcibly expelling non-Serbs and crimes against humanity committed during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia.
His initial 27-year sentence was reduced on appeal, and in July he was granted early release from a British prison where he served his sentence.
A former key ally of Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic, Krajisnik has been given credit for time spent in detention since his arrest and transfer to the ICTY in April 2000.
Bosnian Serb state TV broadcast live his arrival at Banja Luka before he was transported by helicopter to Pale.
“He is a great man, honest... He could not have been a criminal,” Bosnian Serb Radovan Vukovic, 52, said.
While Bosnian Serbs were celebrating Krajisnik’s return, Muslims and Croats who saw him as one of the key architects of the former Yugoslav republic’s bloody war, were not.
His welcome in Pale was a “direct insult to the victims who have survived horrible tortures by the regime,” Jasmin Meskovic from Bosnia’s Association of prisoners of war said.
Upon arrival, Krajisnik apparently ruled out any possibility of returning to politics, saying that he would rather be involved in his family’s private business. He indicated he would seek a “revision” of his war crimes conviction, without revealing further details. Krajisnik pleaded not guilty to all charges at the start of his trial before the UN war crimes court.
The ICTY found Krajisnik to have been at the center of a campaign to ethnically recompose” targeted territories of Bosnia by reducing the number of Muslims and Croats there.
Having founded the nationalist Serbian Democratic Party with Karadzic, Krajisnik later became president of the Bosnian Serb assembly.
In November 2008, Karadzic testified as a defense witness in the appeal hearing of his one-time ally. He said Krajisnik was not a senior decisionmaker.