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Defence Claims Generals Not in Charge in Medak Operation

Witness claims the generals formally in charge of a Croatian operation against Serb forces were bypassed by the real command structure.
By Goran Jungvirth

A Zagreb war crimes court heard this week that the two generals accused of presiding over crimes in the 1993 Medak Pocket operation were not really in command at a time civilians and prisoners-of-war were murdered.

 

According to defence witnesses, generals Mirko Norac and Rahim Ademi, who have been indicted for their role in commanding the so-called Medak Pocket operation in 1993, were only nominally in command of the area where the operation took place.



However, they were bypassed by orders from Admiral Davor Domazet Loso, said the witnesses.



According to the indictment originally brought by the Hague tribunal, at least 29 Serb civilians were killed and dozens injured during the Croatian army operation, which ran from September 9 to 17, 1993, and was held to reclaim the Medak Pocket - a Serb-held piece of land.



It also alleges that Croatian forces killed at least five Serb soldiers who had been captured or wounded.



More than 300 homes and barns were destroyed in villages in the Medak area after Croatian forces took control of the area, and most of the destruction took place between September 15 and 17.



While Loso has been investigated by international war crimes investigators, he has not been charged. In September, he confirmed to the court that he had been present during the operation, but said he had only made suggestions to the field commanders.



Franjo Feldi, former assistant to the Croatian chief of the general staff, Janko Bobetko, said Loso had been tasked with transmitting orders from the high command and ensuring they were followed.



“[Bobetko] personally gave him authority to command and lead the operation. According to a diary which I saw while the Hague [tribunal] investigators questioned me, he directly commanded the operation from the Operational Centre and had a direct connection with the high command,” Feldi told the court.



“Bobetko said, ‘Domazet is there, I sent him, he knows what to do’,” said Feldi.



According to Feldi’s testimony, Ademi and Norac had no direct lines of communication to Bobetko, while Loso did.



Prosecutors claim that Ademi, by virtue of his high-ranking position as a brigadier and acting commander of the Gospic Military District, played a central role in planning, ordering and executing the Medak Pocket operation.



At the time of the events in question, Norac was commander of the 9th Guards Motorised Brigade - the main unit involved in the operation – and held the rank of colonel.



Prosecutors say Norac commanded the Croatian army’s “Sector One”, a combat group set up specifically to conduct the operation. During the trial, Norac has sought to argue that Sector One never existed, while Ademi has tried to prove that a parallel line of command operated, meaning that orders did not come through him.



This week, Feldi testified that Sector One did exist and that Loso commanded it.



Later in the week, defence witness Vladimir Lelas, the former head of infantry in the Gospic area, also said that “Loso commanded the operation”.



“The action was led by someone from the top and not by Ademi and Norac,” he said, before adding that Loso had been present in the Operational Centre and had controlled the operation.



As for civilian casualties, Lelas denied there were any non-military personnel in the region, saying that the area hosted Serb artillery that bombarded the town of Gospic.



“They may have been in civilian clothes but they were soldiers,” he said. “I know that because they hit our positions every day. Gospic was under fire every day for two years”.



Earlier in the week, the trial was marred by an argument outside the toilet between Norac’s lawyer Zeljko Olujic and Ademi’s wife Anita. Olujic said Ademi’s wife addressed him with “inappropriate words and in an elevated tone”, leading the judge to warn the court that communication between the public and trial participants was forbidden.



Outside the court, Anita Ademi said Norac’s lawyers had been coaching the witnesses in what to say. Olujic dismissed the allegations, saying he had been a lawyer for 35 years, “so it is just stupidity to say that I would, in the court’s corridors and the toilet, exhort the witnesses to say something”.



Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR journalist in Zagreb.


Also see Story Behind the Story, published 1 Feb 08, TU Issue 532.

The Story Behind the Story gives an insight into the work that goes into IWPR articles and the challenges faced by our trainees at every stage of the editorial process.

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