The International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague on Friday acquitted two former Croatian generals of the killing of ethnic Serbians and other war crimes during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, AFP reported on Friday. 

In 2011, the two ex-generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladan Markac, had been convicted on nine counts murder, persecution and inhumane acts against the Serbs, the BBC said, and sentenced to 24 years and 18 years, respectively, on the grounds that they were part of a "criminal conspiracy" to "forcibly remove" the Serbs from the Serbian-controlled Krajina region in southern Croatia. 

The prosecution said that 324 Serbs were killed and "close to 90,000" were displaced during the offensive in the Krajina region.

On Friday, presiding Yugoslavian judge Theodor Meron said the court had decided on "a verdict of acquittal" for the 57-year-old defendants as there had been "no such conspiracy."

Gotovina and Markac are considered national heroes in Croatia, which is expected to become a U.N. state in July. The decision was hailed by Croatian President Ivo Josipovic, who said, "The verdict confirms everything that we believe in Croatia: that generals Gotovina and Markac are innocent." 

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic was less enthusiastic that two men who were accused of attacking villages of civilian Serbians were being released. He accused the judges of being politically motivated and said the verdict "will open old wounds." Deputy Prime Minsiter Rasim Ljajic told the Beta news agency that this is "a move backward" and was "proof of selective justice, which is worse than any injustice."

Immediately after the verdict was read, Gotovina and Markac were driven to the Rotterdam airport and boarded a government plane to fly back to Croatia, the BBC said.