MARCH 11 2008 12:12h
At the start of the trial of the generals, audio and video tapes were played in which the late president Tudjman is speaking to them.
The trial of three Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina, 52, Ivan Cermak, 58, and Mladen Markac, 52, indicted of war crimes during Operation Storm began at The Hague’s tribunal today. The trial started six and a half years after the first indictment. The generals have pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutor Alan Tieger especially pointed to the fact that civilians who torched houses and participated in crimes had worn Croatian Army insignia, which blocked the work of the civilian police.
Efforts or the lack of efforts of the civilian police contributed to the rule of non-punishment for the perpetrators of crimes against Serbs. Non-punishment de facto became official on August 18, Tieger said. The prosecution cited claims that both the civilian and military police had received instructions not to process crimes that occurred up until the said date.
Nobody did anything to stop these crimes and Gotovina is saying he relied on the military police, Tieger said, adding that Gotovina should not have allowed himself to function on that basis and that he knew that the Military Police was a body under his operative control.
‘Gotovina is pointing the finger at himself’
General Gotovina cannot justify the lack of action on his part by pointing the finger at the Military Police, the prosecution claims.
In doing so, he is inadvertently pointing to himself because he had daily operative control over the Military Police, which is envisaged by the vertical command control, Tieger said.
He stressed that after he had brought into the area the same troops who had committed crimes earlier, Gotovina did nothing apart from giving out some marginal orders.
Tudjman sent Cermak to restore order
The late President Tudjman sent General Ivan Cermak to Knin to restore order, Tieger said.
Cermak had the authority as general and as Tudjman’s personal envoy. Everybody accepted the fact that he had the authority of a military head. Cermak had effective control to discipline and punish soldiers – the prosecution claims.
The indictment against the three generals states as the leaders of the war crimes the late president Franjo Tudjman, the late defence minister Gojko Susak and the late Croatian Army commanders, Janko Bobetko and Zvonimir Cervenko.
- This trial arises from the forcible elimination of Krajina Serbs from Croatia and the destruction of their communities in August 1995 and the roles and responsibilities of the generals in that process – Tieger said in his opening statement.
HDZ – nationalist party
The prosecution said that Serbs had lived in Krajina for centuries and presented an electronic map of Croatia with parts of it in which the Serbs presented 12 to 13 percent of the population. The prosecution also played an audio recording in which president Franjo Tudjman explains to the generals how they should treat the Serb population in the liberated Knin area.
- We urge you not to retreat – Tudjman told the generals. The prosecution said in their opening statement that Serbs and Croats had pejoratively and proudly called themselves Ustashas and Chetniks, and called the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) a nationalist party. The prosecution then played a video of Tudjman’s speech.
- There is no return to what was, that in the middle of Croatia lives a war that destroys, that did not allow Croatia to be capable of independent and sovereign life under the heavens in the global community of the United Nations – Tudjman said in the video.
‘The goal of shelling Knin was to remove the Serbs’
According to Prosecutor Tieger, Tudjman had ordered the shelling of Drvar, Knin, Benkovac and Gracac with the aim of achieving aspirations for a homogenous country without any Serbs. But of all those towns, Knin was most important, Tieger said.
Although Knin was not a big town, it had a population o f15,000. For Croatians is was the capital of Croatian kings and now a centre of separatism, while for Krajina Serbs, Knin was the capital, Tieger said. The prosecutor added that Knin had been extensively shelled on August 4 and 5, 1995 and that there is evidence of mass graves in which civilians killed in the attack had been buried.
Tieger said that this was not the most devastating shelling in comparison to the shelling of Sarajevo and Vukovar, but he said the aim of the shelling was to remove Serbs and settle Croats in the area, for which there are witnesses.
Shelling is impermissible. There is a principle of proportionality according to which it is expected that the number of civilian victims is not greater than military damage. All those who witnessed the shelling realised that the shelling was intended for the civilian population, Tieger said.
'Croatian special forces stole cars and TV sets'
The prosecution cited witnesses who were in the Gracac area during the shelling in Operation Storm. The prosecution claims that the Croatian Army shelled Gracac although that town was of no military significance.
This was the first time that it became obvious that Gracac was shelled, they agreed that artillery was used and the traces of missiles could be seen. It was not a town of military importance, but a civilian town, the prosecution stated.
The prosecution proceeded to show photographs of houses in flames and a member of the Croatian special police forces hooking up a civilian vehicle and driving off with it. Another photograph showed members of special forces load a television set into a truck. The prosecution also displayed evidence of 81 graves in which Serbian civilians were buried.
There were 81 graves. Members of the international community 81 crosses on them and only on ten of them were the names of the victims written, said the prosecution.
‘Civilians who refused to leave were killed in front of relatives and friends’
The prosecution also claims that Croatian forces entered towns and villages after the shelling, believing that all the civilians had gone. But they encountered civilians there and threatened some of them with weapons and physical force to force them to leave.
They opened fire and civilians were wounded and killed. The Croatian Army went from house to house, intimidating civilians and forcing them on a march. Civilians who refused to leave were killed by the Croatian Army members in front of relatives and friends, the prosecution said in its opening statement.
The prosecution also stated that Croatian soldiers burned civilians alive, abused them and stole their livestock, which resulted in the killing of 350 civilians. Croats also burned Serb civilians and houses in the Plavni Valley. One civilian who was killed was 90 years old, the prosecution stipulated.
The prosecution announced 134 witnesses
General Gotovina’s attorneys Luka Misetic and Greg Kehoe will make their opening statements on Wednesday. The attorneys of the other two generals made their opening statements at the beginning of the defence’s evidence process.
The generals’ lawyers are optimistic and claim that they will certainly be able to contest the indictment. The prosecution announced 134 witnesses and were granted 209.5 hours for their questioning.
Government sends evidence against Markac to the tribunal
During the pre-trial conference, a day before the trial of the Croatian generals Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac for alleged war crimes, the Croatian ministry of internal affairs sent the prosecution in the Hague detailed documentation on the event during the Medak Pocket operation.
General Markac’s lawyers questioned the list of documents on General Markac they received only a day earlier and for which it is not clear it contains any new evidence.
Markac’s attorneys Goran Mikulicic and Tomislav Kuzmanovic told reporters that the 15 pades of documents are from the Croatian Interior Ministry. They cover the period before, during and after Operation Storm and pertain to General Markac.