Court Told Cermak Had No Authority Over Police

Ex-Croatian minister testifies that accused general still took steps to stop crimes by Croatian military police.

Court Told Cermak Had No Authority Over Police

Ex-Croatian minister testifies that accused general still took steps to stop crimes by Croatian military police.

Saturday, 3 October, 2009
A defence witness in the trial of former Croatian army general Ivan Cermak told the Hague tribunal this week that the accused had no authority to issue orders to police forces during a key August 1995 offensive.



Along with generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, Cermak is charged with responsibility for crimes against Serb civilians during and after the Croatian military’s Operation Storm in the town of Knin.



According to the indictment, Cermak, a former Croatian assistant minister of defence, was appointed Commander of the Knin Garrison on August 5, 1995, by then Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, a role he held until November 15 of that year.



The indictment states that Cermak “possessed effective control over members of Croatian Army units or elements who comprised or were attached to, or operated in the Knin Garrison, and also over civilian police who operated in the Garrison area and areas adjacent to it”.



However, Zdenko Rincic, a former deputy Croatian minister of economy and an army officer, told the tribunal this week that Cermak had no jurisdiction over either the civilian or military police in and around the town.



Rincic said he was sent to Knin to oversee economic recovery and met Cermak regularly at co-ordination meetings.



He said he believed that Cermak, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges, first heard of crimes being committed during Operation Storm from a local United Nations commander, Canadian Alain Forand.



Rincic was asked about a letter, dated August 11, 1995, from Forand to Cermak in which the UN commander stressed that there had been “widespread and systematic looting and destruction of property and livestock”.



It continued, “I again protest these actions and urge you to redouble your efforts”.



Rincic said that “immediately” after learning of the abuses, “Mr Cermak took steps – he informed the military police and called for urgent action to curb such activities”.



He went on to tell judges, “I would like to remind you that during the first couple of days in Knin, the conditions were extremely difficult. It took a lot of effort before anything was done, although a lot needed to be discussed, to tidy up the areas in and around Knin.



“The first time ever Mr Cermak received this information he was very angry and very agitated and that’s how I know when he learnt of the developments for the first time and how I know it took time for the information to reach him.”



However, giving evidence on September 30, Rincic said that although Cermak called meetings over this issue, he did not have the authority to issue any orders.



“I saw this with my own eyes,” said Rincic.



“I know that he asked them [the police] to do things and did not order them, because he was not able to,” he continued.



Rincic went on to say, “Those who did issue orders and who should issue orders on paper and who did issue orders, they should be the ones you should be asking these questions and not these boys.”



When asked to whom he was referring when using the term “boys”, Rincic said, “I mean the generals.”



Daniella Peled is an IWPR editor in London.
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