A U.N. tribunal on Thursday acquitted Macedonia's former interior minister of murder, cruel treatment and other war crimes stemming from a 2001 police attack on an ethnic Albanian village that left seven men dead.
However, the police officer who led the attack was convicted of murder in three of the deaths and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Supporters in the court's public gallery cheered and clapped as Judge Kevin Parker announced that Ljube Boskovski, 47, had been cleared of all charges and ordered him released.
The ruling said prosecutors did not show that Boskovski had failed to take "necessary and reasonable measures" to punish the policemen who ravaged the town of Ljuboten, six miles north of the capital, Skopje.
Former police officer Johan Tarculovsky, 33, showed no emotion as his sentence was read out for three murders, cruelty and wanton destruction. He was exonerated of responsibility for the four other deaths.
Parker said Tarculovsky played a prominent role in "a deliberate and indiscriminate attack on residents of Albanian ethnicity involving acts of murder."
The attack on Ljuboten is the only atrocity in Macedonia indicted by the U.N.'s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The country broke away peacefully from the Yugoslavia in 1991 but was rocked by a six-month conflict 10 years later between government forces and ethnic Albanians fighting for more rights.
The village was targeted because it was believed to support the Albanian National Liberation Army, Parker said.
He said the attack "was not a law enforcement operation to locate and arrest NLA members. The predominant objective ... was to retaliate against persons of Albanian ethnicity in the village for actions of the NLA, which the village was thought to harbor."
Accused were heroes in Macedonia
Many Macedonians regard both Boskovski and Tarculovsky as heroes. The government said before their trial started in April 2007 that it was providing "moral, financial and institutional support" for the two men and their families.
The Macedonian government welcomed Boskovski's acquittal, but expressed "regret" for Tarculovsky's conviction.
"We hope that Johan Tarculovsky will be able to explain his case and to provide evidence before the tribunal in his appeal," the government said in a written statement. It added that the government would support Tarculovsky's defense and provide assistance in presenting evidence.
The Ljuboten case was the last indictment issued by the U.N. tribunal for crimes committed during the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia.
The court is scheduled to close its doors by 2010, even though its two most-wanted suspects, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief, Gen. Ratko Mladic, remain at large.