THE HAGUE, Netherlands, April 15 (UPI) -- A war crimes court in The Hague, Netherlands, convicted two Croatian military leaders Friday of committing crimes against humanity against ethnic Serbs.
Judges sentenced Gen. Ante Gotovina to 24 years and Gen. Mladen Markac to 18 years in jail for crimes that included murder, persecution and plunder, the BBC reported.
The men were convicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity for helping to plan an operation to retake Croatia's Krajina region and drive out its Serbian population. During the three-month campaign, part of the Croatian War of Independence, 324 Krajina Serb civilians and prisoners of war were killed.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia cleared another defendant, Gen. Ivan Cermak, of all charges in "Operation Storm," the largest European land offensive since World War II.
A 2005 indictment accused the three former generals of leading an effort that forcibly displaced nearly 90,000 Serb civilians, burning and pilfering tens of thousands of homes in hundreds of villages, and killing at least 150 civilians.
Crowds gathered in Zagreb, the Croatian capital, booed and hissed when the verdicts were announced, the BBC said. Large video screens were set up across Croatia for live broadcast of Friday's verdicts.
Croatia's Catholic Church and its prime minister called for calm ahead of verdicts against the three generals. Bishops encouraged prayers for a fair decision and called for dignity no matter what the U.N. war crimes court decided.
Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor appealed for peace and calm, especially among veterans of the war, saying protests or unrest would not change the verdicts.
The trial lasted three years.