Two prominent Croatian military leaders have been convicted of committing war crimes against Serbs during the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, following a trial at The Hague, Netherlands.

Former general Ante Gotovina and former commander Mladen Markac were sentenced to 24 years and 18 years in prison, respectively.

The judges found Gotovina “guilty as a member of a joint criminal enterprise” and on nine individual charges of war crimes, including murder, inhuman acts and forced deportations.

”With respect to sentencing, the Chamber considered as aggravating circumstances the gravity of the offences, particularly the large number of crimes in a wide geographical area, the vulnerability of the victims, and the abuse of your position of authority,” said Alphons Orie, the presiding judge.

However, the tribunal cleared another defendant, Ivan Cermak, of all charges.

Many of the war crimes under consideration occurred in 1995, when the two convicted men plotted to seize the Krajina region of

Croatia and drive out all Serbians. Krajina had been under Serb control since the war commenced in 1991.

The offensive removed about 200,000 ethnic Serbs from Croatia, and at least 150 Serbs were killed. Some reports claim the number of Serb deaths was closer to 300.

The judge rejected an assertion by Gotovina’s lawyers that he tried to stop his soldiers from committing atrocities.

Judge Orie asserted there was a well-organized conspiracy to attack Serb civilians in Krajina

The Croatian military committed acts of murder, cruel treatment, inhumane acts, plunder, persecution and deportation, he said.

Orie added that Gotovina made no serious effort to follow up on or report crimes committed by his soldiers against Serbian civilians.

Gotovina was originally arrested in 2005.

BBC reported that the convictions of Gotovina and Markac were condemned by Croatians who regard them as national heroes. War veterans in Croatia have reportedly protested against the verdict in Zagreb.

However, others in Croatia feel that by bringing war criminals to justice, the process of membership in the European Union will accelerate.

Meanwhile, Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor has pleaded for calm, saying that “protests cannot change anything”.