Ljube Boskovski spent more than three years in The Hague, Netherlands, tribunal detention unit on trial over a 2001 police attack on an ethnic Albanian village that killed seven people. He was acquitted Thursday.
Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, government and church officials, friends and family lined the runway at Skopje's airport to greet Boskovski. About 500 supporters in red T-shirts with Boskovski's photo and the slogan "Victory for Macedonia" waved flags and banners.
"This is a great day," Boskovski told the crowd, after kissing the tarmac. "Thank you for gathering here in such numbers."
The Hague court jailed former police officer Johan Tarculovski, 33, for 12 years for three murders, cruelty and wanton destruction in the same case.
The attack on Ljuboten is the only atrocity in Macedonia that led to an indictment by the U.N.'s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The tiny landlocked country broke away peacefully from Yugoslavia in 1991, but was rocked by a six-month conflict in 2001 between government forces and ethnic Albanians fighting for more rights.
Ljuboten, 10 kilometers (6 miles) north of the capital, Skopje, was believed to support ethnic Albanian rebels.
Many Macedonians regard both Boskovski and Tarculovski as heroes. The government has welcomed Boskovski's acquittal, but expressed regret over Tarculovski's conviction.
"We won this battle, but for me and my family there is another battle to be won for (Tarculovski)," the former minister said.
Officials were planning a public celebration for his return late Friday in Skopje's main square.