Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Croat War Veteran Blames Atrocities on Comrades

But Gotovina defence questions witness claim that he took part in Operation Storm.
By Denis Dzidic
A former Croatian soldier has told the trial of three Croatian army generals that he witnessed fellow soldiers commit crimes against civilians during a military offensive in August 1995.

During the trial of Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac in The Hague this week, Vladimir Gojanovic testified that he saw Croatian troops abuse and murder civilians and loot and burn their homes during the operation aimed at retaking territory held by Serb rebels.

The three generals are on trial for war crimes committed by troops under their command against local Serbs in the Krajina region during Operation Storm in 1995.

According to the indictment, Gotovina was the overall commander of the offensive, while Cermak commanded the Knin garrison and Markac ran the special police units. Prosecutors allege they were instrumental in planning and carrying out a “joint criminal enterprise” to drive Serbs from the area.

Gojanovic, who is president of the Croatian Association of Demobilised Homeland War Veterans, told the court that he saw the “murder of a prisoner of war by members of his unit”. He also saved two women from being raped by two young Croatian soldiers, he said.

When asked by Gotovina’s lawyer Luka Misetic whether he had reported the crimes to his superiors or the police, Gojanovic said he had not told anyone other than the tribunal, although he had made a public speech about it.

He also said his unit had never received any orders from Gotovina about “how to treat prisoners of war or Serb civilians”.

The defence then contested Gojanovic’s claim that he had been a member of the 113th Sibenik brigade, saying he had never been a member of that unit and “hence had never taken part in Operation Storm”.

Misetic presented Gojanovic with a list of soldiers from the 113th brigade produced in August 1995 that did not have his name on it.

Gojanovic said he did not know why he was not on the list. He said there must have been a “mistake in his registration papers”. To support this theory, he said that after the war he was offered a veterans’ medal as a former member of the 4th Split brigade although he was never part of that regiment.

Misetic argued there was no mistake. He read extracts from statements by two former members of the 113th brigade, Tihomir Mis and Ratko Despot, who said Gojanovic had “not been a member of the unit during Operation Storm”.

Yet the witness insisted he and Despot were members of the same unit. He asked the judges whether it was possible the men had given their statements under “political pressure”.

Gojanovic also said his family had received threats and were under police protection as a result of his testimony.

To show that he had served in the brigade, the witness produced copies of his military booklets as well as a letter from former chief Hague prosecutor Carla Del Ponte to the court. While the judges allowed him to distribute the documents, they did not let him read extracts from the letter.

“These documents prove beyond doubt that I was a member of the 113th brigade and that my testimony about war crimes is true,” said the witness.

Later in the trial, Cermak’s lawyer Gillian Higgins questioned Gojanovic about a statement he gave to prosecutors in 2005, in which he said, “General Cermak and his men took command of a factory in Kistanje in the summer of 1995 and stole all the equipment there.”

The witness admitted he had made a mistake.

“[Cermak] was not there, but his men were in charge of that factory and looted the facility, so all of the money and equipment went to the generals, while we, the soldiers, were blamed for the crimes,” he said.

Gojanovic was also shown an extract from a Croatian newspaper from 2004 where he is quoted as accusing the Croatian government and the late president Franjo Tudjman of “the genocide [of Serb civilians in the villages of] Varivode and Gosici”.

In order to demonstrate that the wartime authorities took action against crimes against civilians, Markac’s defence team presented the court with a transcript of a Croatian government session from autumn 1995, at the time when nine elderly Serbs were murdered in Varivode.

The document showed that the minister for internal affairs said he “would not rest until those responsible for it were behind bars”.

However, Gojanovic said he was not aware this was the government’s position and that it was “probably just their public and political opinion”.

The next witness at this week’s hearing was Alexander Tchernetsky, a United Nations military observer responsible for monitoring minority groups in the Krajina region at the time of Operation Storm.

Tchernetsky said he witnessed the Croatian army shelling and looting the Cetina and Kijevo regions, even though they had no Serb military presence.

“There were no members of the Serb military in those regions,” he said.

The witness also said that during a visit to the Plavno valley he found the body of an elderly Serb man.

“[It was] likely that it was done by members of the Croatian army,” he said.

However, Markac’s defence rejected this, saying it was pure speculation.

During his testimony, Tchernetsky also said he had seen Croatian special forces burning an entire section of Knin after they had retaken it.

The trial continues next week.

Denis Dzidic is an IWPR-trained reporter in The Hague.

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