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Croatian Court Hears of Chilling Order

Protected witness said she heard soldiers say they had been ordered to kill all the inhabitants of her village.
A woman told a war crimes trial in Zagreb this week how she overheard Croat soldiers, who were rampaging through her village, say “not even a cat should remain alive”.

Giving testimony at the trial of two Croat generals, Rahim Ademi and Mirko Norac, witness number 19, whose identity is kept secret for her own protection, said her 74-year-old aunt, who was deaf and blind, was murdered by the soldiers. She herself said she hid in some bushes.

“Shoot, you know that [Janko] Bobetko (the then head of the Croatian army command) and Ademi ordered that not even a cat should remain alive,” one soldier told another, according to her testimony.

Ademi and Norac are accused of having responsibility for the troops who pushed through the “Medak Pocket”, a small salient of Serb-held territory in Croatia, in 1993.

It is alleged that Ademi, who was acting commander of the Gospic Military District, played a central role in planning, ordering and executing the operation on September 9-17, 1993.

Norac was commander of the 9th Guards Motorised Brigade - the main unit involved – and held the rank of colonel.

According to the indictment, at least 29 local Serb civilians were killed and dozens seriously injured during this operation. The indictment also alleges that Croatian forces killed at least five Serb soldiers who had been captured or wounded.

Witness number 19 said the murder of her aunt had been ordered by a soldier called Dragan, one of around ten soldiers who attacked the village in green uniforms and helmets.

The presiding judge Marin Mrcela warned her that she had not implicated Ademi when talking to war crimes investigators in 1999, only Bobetko.

“The devil knows, perhaps I did not. It was enough for me that Bobetko made that order. They were by the way in Gospic and were only ordering poor people to kill and plunder,” she said.

She said the looting and arson began only after the Croatian soldiers were ordered to retreat, under pressure from the United Nations peacekeeping troops UNPROFOR. She said UNPROFOR had called her in to identify the bodies of two killed Serb neighbours, Andja and Miro Jovic.

Norac’s defence objected to her testimony, calling it “superficial and contradictory”.

She was followed by the testimony of Witness number 18, who is also from the village of Citluk, and who said not one shot was fired from the village at the Croatian soldiers. This was in contradiction to the defence team, which says Citluk was a launchpad for attacks on Gospic and other regional centres.

The witness said no one who surrendered to the Croatians remained alive.

The next day, on December 11, the court saw photographs showing partially-burned bodies in basements and some mutilated and disintegrated bodies.

The photographs were taken by UNPROFOR after the action and show people in both civilian and military clothing among the dead. The photographs also showed destroyed and burned houses.

“Croatian forces systematically destroyed built objects during their delayed retreat. Houses were still burning when UNPROFOR entered for the first time in some areas; some corpses were still burning….the Croatian Army conducted a full-scale scorched earth policy,” according to the UNPROFOR report prepared at the time, as read out by Judge Marin Mrcela.

Norac’s defence objected to UNPROFOR’s report “because it didn’t match the real situation”.

The rest of the week featured defence witnesses, who related that the Croatian military followed the international conventions of war laid out in the Geneva conventions.

Miodrag Hecimovic, former commander of the 3rd battalion of Norac’s brigade, said that he had only heard about the crimes in the Medak Pocket from the media. He described Ademi and Norac as two men who punished anyone who did something wrong.

Hecimovic denied the existence of “Sector one” which, according to the indictment, was commanded by Norac. However, he confirmed that Norac had an isolated command centre in Bilaj where commanders briefed him after the operation and confirmed that everything was okay on the ground.

The trial continues next week.

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