BELGRADE, November 16 - RAPSI, Nikolai Sokolov. The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has found Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac not guilty after they were convicted last year for committing military crimes against the Serbs in 1991-1995.

The generals will be released from custody immediately. The ICTY and Appeals Chamber Chairman Theodor Meron headed the hearing.

The ICTY sentenced Gotovin and Markach to 24 and 18 years in prison, respectively, on April 15, 2011 for crimes committed during Operation Storm in 1995. The tribunal also acquitted Ivan Chermak, a defendant in the case. The defense appealed the verdict.

The large-scale military operation ended the conflict in Croatia. It began on August 4, 1995, and ended with the defeat of the Republic of the Serbian Krajina, a self-proclaimed Serbian entity that existed in Croatia in 1991-1995. According to Serbian experts, over 2,000 Serbs - half of whom were civilians - died or went missing in the operation. Over 250,000 became refugees.

The armed conflict began after Croatia declared independence on June 25, 1991. During the conflict, local forces fought the Yugoslav People's Army and Serbian factions supported by the Belgrade authorities. The war saw ethnic cleansing on both sides and claimed the lives of over 20,000 of Croatia's 4.7 million population. The country's territorial integrity was only restored in 1998.