Singing Serbian national songs and waving flags, more than 2,000 people have welcomed convicted war criminal Momcilo Krajisnik home as a national hero.
He returned to Bosnia on Friday after being granted early release from a British prison where he had served two thirds of his 20-year sentence.
“It’s like a dream. You have no idea how beautiful this country is,” he told reporters.
But he also said he does not understand what this giant party was about. “After all, I am a war criminal,” said 68-year-old Krajisnik.
He was arrested in 2000 and convicted by the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, of persecuting and forcibly expelling non-Serbs during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia. His initial 27-year sentence was reduced on appeal.
The former Bosnian Serb parliament speaker was granted early release by the tribunal’s president, Theodor Meron, in July.
Krajisnik first landed in the Bosnian Serb city of Banja Luka, and a government helicopter then flew him home to his wartime stronghold of Pale, near Sarajevo.
Supporters arrived by bus from all over the Bosnian Serb part of the country to welcome him, and convoys of cars cruised Pale streets all afternoon, with people waving Serb flags through windows, honking horns and stopping at the main square, where Serbian nationalists songs were blaring from loudspeakers.
Milorad Ugrinovic, 60, arrived from the northern town of Laktasi.
“We gathered to show support for Mr Krajisnik, who did not deserve to sit for so long in some jail. Instead he deserves the support of the entire Serb people because he sacrificed himself for the Serb people,” said Ugrinovic.
Many Serbs refuse to realise or accept that their side committed most or even any of the war crimes during the Bosnian war, despite the findings of international courts.
The fact that most of the war criminals convicted by the UN Tribunal are Serbs is interpreted as an international anti-Serb conspiracy, rather than a real picture of the distribution of guilt.
The welcome home party in Pale was organised by the Serb Democratic Party, which Krajisnik was member of.
He was the closest ally of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic who is now on trial at the Tribunal for alleged genocide and other crimes.