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Court Hears of Medak Pocket Abuses

Witness claims Croat soldiers abducted his neighbours, whose bodies were later found in a cesspit.
By IWPR ICTY
A Serb witness told the war crimes trial of two Croat generals this week that Croatian forces abducted his neighbours, whose bodies were later found in a cesspit.



Generals Rahim Ademi and Mirko Novac are on trial at the Zagreb County Court for commanding the troops that, according to the indictment, killed prisoners and destroyed property during the “Medak Pocket” operation in 1993 - a major offensive to capture a Serb-held area.



On January 30, a witness, known as Number 7 to protect his identity, described seeing Croatian soldiers leading away his neighbours Milan and Andja Jovic from the village of Divoselo.



He said that from a hiding place some 150 metres away, he saw a Croatian soldier hit Milan in the chest with his rifle before taking them off somewhere.



The bodies of his neighbours, who are listed as victims in the indictment against Norac and Ademi, were later found in a cesspit in the town of Gospic.



The witness said the Croatians then stole the villagers’ cattle and destroyed their houses, before capturing and abusing him and his friend Grujo Pajic.



“You know what torture looks like…beatings and mistreatment,” said the witness.



He said a Croatian soldier pushed him into a ravine, where he lay hidden until he managed to escape by walking for 13 days to a Serb-held position. His friend was killed and his body was later exchanged by the Croatian troops.



Norac’s defence team objected to the testimony, claiming it was biased since during a previous statement given to investigators from the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, ICTY, the witness expressed hatred to Croatians by calling them “Ustase” – an offensive name used for Nazi collaborators during World War Two.



The witness tried to justify his use of the word.



“I grew up with these terms among the people who got harmed in the Second World War and I got into the habit,” he said.



Norac then confronted the witness with claims that Serb forces were deployed in the village of Divoselo, with mortars and other heavy weaponry. The witness disagreed, saying the villagers only had light arms, and that there were no soldiers there at all.



On January 29, video recordings made between September 9 and 15, 1993 - the dates of the operation - were shown in court. The original footage showed Norac’s 9th Guards Motorised Brigade preparing for action and then moving towards Divoselo and Citluk, whose houses showed little evidence of damage.



However, in footage of the retreat there were signs of burnt and destroyed homes.



The United Nations forced the Croatian troops to pull out of the Medak Pocket, after their victory. Previous witnesses have said that most houses were destroyed during the retreat by soldiers angry at being forced to surrender their gains.



The trial continues on February 6.



Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.