THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal overturned the convictions Tuesday of three Bosnian Croats who had been sentenced for one of the worst massacres of the Bosnian war, calling their trial "critically flawed."
The court also significantly reduced the sentences of two other Bosnian Croats who had been convicted of involvement in the 1993 massacres in Ahmici, where more than 100 Muslim civilians, including women and children, were slaughtered.
The judgment was a severe setback for Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, who was in Yugoslavia pressing the governments of Serbia and Montenegro to surrender more war crimes suspects in the Balkan wars.
The five appellate judges ordered the immediate release from detention of brothers Zoran and Mirjan Kupreskic and their cousin Vlatko Kupreskic. They had been sentenced to 10, eight and six years imprisonment, respectively, in January 2000.
The court also cut the 15-year sentence of Drago Josipovic to 12 years, and the 25-year sentence of Vladimir Santic to 18 years.
The case was one of the first brought to trial by the tribunal, which was created two years before the 1995 indictments.
The judges criticized the prosecutors, calling the indictments "too general and vague," and said the trial court had been "critically flawed" in its assessment of the evidence.
The trial court had accepted the testimony of shaky witnesses who had identified the three Kupreskic relatives as participants in the dawn offensive on Ahmici and surrounding villages in April 1993, the ruling said.
Prosecutors had built a weak case based on "unreliable witnesses," the judges said. The trial court ignored testimony of at least one witness that could have affected the verdict and failed to address discrepancies in witness statements.