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Gotovina Defence Insist on Single Trial

Lawyers for Croatian commander reject prosecution’s joint indictment request.
By Goran Jungvirth
The first status conference in the case of Croatian general Ante Gotovina, who was arrested in December last year in Spain after four years on the run, heard some discussion of a proposed joint indictment against him and two other Croatian generals.

Gotovina first appeared on December 12 and pleaded not guilty to four counts of crimes against humanity and three of violations of the laws and customs of war for his alleged role in Operation Storm, a Croatian army offensive to reclaim Serb-held Krajina in August 1995.

In the meantime, the prosecution has submitted a request to join Gotovina’s case with that of two other accused Croatian generals, Mladen Markač and Ivan Čermak, because all three face accusations relating to the same events.

The three are accused of being members of a joint criminal enterprise, led by the late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, with the goal of forcibly expelling 200,000 Croatian Serbs in 1995 during an operation by Croatian forces to regain a third of its territory after four years of war.

Gotovina was commander of Operation Storm. Čermak was in charge of the Knin garrison, and Markač commanded the interior ministry’s special police.

Gotovina’s lawyer Luka Mišetić has opposed the proposed joinder.

Markač and Čermak’s defence already filed their objections in March this year. Their lawyers said that the joining of the cases would “prejudice and endanger [the accuseds’] right to have a fair and expeditious trial”, because they would have to wait too long for Gotovina's defence to catch up with preparations that have already been made.

Markač and Čermak’s defence also said that their possible plan to call Gotovina as a defence witness would not “have the same effect if he were co accused in the same process”.

Mištetić, who has been waiting until recently to be confirmed as Gotovina’s official defence counsel, has also warned about possible conflicts of interest that could arise in a joint trial.

He refers two potential “critical” witnesses for Gotovina, namely his subordinate at the time, General Rahim Ademi and the former Croatian justice minister Miroslav Šeparović.

Ademi, whose case has now been referred back to a Croatian court, was represented at the tribunal by Čedo Prodanović and Jadranka Sloković who now represents Čermak

Šeparović, the other potential witness for Gotovina, now represents Markač.

In both cases, says Misetic, his client would be harmed.

In addition to his arguments against joinder, Mišetić contended that there are significant changes in the new proposed joint indictment, which are at odds with previous arguments put forward by the prosecution in other cases before the tribunal.

In the new indictment, Operation Strom is described as “an ethnic cleansing operation which drove the Krajina Serbs out of Croatia”. Mišetić says that is contradicted by the prosecution’s arguments in the case of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević.

“There, the prosecution introduced evidence to argue that the Krajina Serbs were not ethnically cleansed by Croatian forces, but rather were evacuated by Slobodan Milošević and Belgrade authorities in order to resettle the Krajina Serbs in freshly cleansed areas of eastern Bosnia and Kosovo,” he argued.

“In effect”, he continued, Belgrade was “using the Krajina Serbs as “human flagpoles” in the effort to establish claims to territory and further the aims of Milosevic.

Mišetić argues that “the use of inconsistent, irreconcilable theories by the prosecutor to convict two different defendants of the same crime constitutes a violation of due process and the right to a fair trial”.

Pre-trial judge Carmel Agius, who has received all the defence arguments against joinder, reminded the lawyer that it was up to the chamber to decide about the request and that any decision they make will be valid for all three accused.

After that final decision had been made, the direction of the preparations for trial would be clearer, suggested Agius.

During discussions about exchanges of information between defence and prosecution, Agius stressed that he expects the prosecution to deliver the list of witnesses and statements very soon to Gotovina’s defence so it can prepare for the case.

The judge also asked the accused if he has any objections about conditions in the UN’s detention unit or had any other problems.

“Your honour I don’t have problems, thank you most kindly, everything is all right,” replied Gotovina.

Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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