Granic Disputes Krajina Cleansing Claims

Former Croatian foreign minister says Operation Storm allegtions were “inaccurate and damaging”.

Granic Disputes Krajina Cleansing Claims

Former Croatian foreign minister says Operation Storm allegtions were “inaccurate and damaging”.

Friday, 20 November, 2009
No ethnic cleansing took place in the Krajina region after Operation Storm, a defence witness told judges this week in the case against Mladen Markac, former commander of the Croatian special police.

Mate Granic, who served as a Croatian foreign minister during the military offensive in August 1995, told the Hague tribunal that although there were “individual” crimes during the days after Operation Storm, there was no evidence of widespread murder of Croatian Serbs.

Such rumours of ethic cleansing were “inaccurate and damaging”, Granic told the judges.

Markac is accused, along with generals Ante Gotovina and Ivan Cermak, of participating in a joint criminal enterprise that resulted in crimes committed against Serb civilians during and after Operation Storm, aimed at retaking the Serb-held Krajina region in August 1995.

As commander of the special police, Markac oversaw the operation and functions of special police units from around Croatia that participated in Operation Storm. According to the indictment, Markac also controlled the operations of members of the Croatian army, HV, artillery units attached to his force during the months leading up to and following the military offensive.

The indictment charges Markac with permitting, denying and minimising ongoing criminal activity – including plundering, destruction, inhumane treatment and murder – by his subordinates during Operation Storm against the Krajina Serbs.

Granic, who worked in medicine as a consultant for the World Health Organisation in the early 1990s, told the judges that he was motivated to enter politics after seeing the “danger for Croatia posed by the possibility that a greater Serbia might be formed”.

“Croatia was under direct threat,” Granic told the judges, who

entered government as deputy foreign minister, and was responsible for overseeing displaced individuals and other victims of the war. He established the government office for the “1 million” displaced persons and refugees throughout the war, Granic said.

Goran Mikulicic, Markac’s defence lawyer, asked whether a policy existed in Croatia at the time that favoured one ethnic group of victims or displaced individuals over another.

“Absolutely not,” Granic said. “Three per cent of displaced persons were Serbs. A majority of refugees were Bosniaks. There were no serious incidents there, even though it was far from easy to deal with such a throng of people.”

Still, Granic added, “there was hope that issue of reintegration could be solved peacefully” after Operation Storm.

Granic told judges that a “special constitutional law” existed that guaranteed rights to minority groups, as issued by then president Franjo Tudjman.

Mikulicic asked Granic whether there had been any issues around protecting the Serbian population living in Croatia.

“There were never any dilemmas or doubts about the fact that Serbs were Croatian citizens and should have highest possible degree of protection,” Granic told the judges.

However, he added, there were rebel Serbs in rural Croatia who were “exposed to powerful indoctrination.”

“Their leadership rejected any notion of a Croatian state,” Granic said. “That was the main problem which later on resulted in the departure of those people after Operation Storm.”

Yet Granic denied there had been a violation of the Serbs’ human rights. He said that coexistence of the Croats and Krajina Serbs was maintained through assistance, protection and cooperation with the United Nations.

Granic said the government was acutely aware of the importance of “honouring the laws of war”. He said that after a meeting on August 3, 1995, when the rules and regulations of Operation Storm were adopted, Tudjman made the decision to notify all international ambassadors of the plans.

Mikulicic asked about the reactions of the international community in the aftermath of the offensive.

Granic cited an initial reaction by Carl Bildt, the then European Union’s special envoy to the former Yugoslavia, who called the shelling of Knin “excessive, random”, and called for Tudjman to “stand trial” at Hague tribunal, Granic said.

“As minister, I had difficult accepting this [reaction],” Granic said, adding that he received information that no excessive or random shelling had taken place.

“En route to the meeting at the fortress [in Knin], I did not see a single destroyed house,” Granic told the judges.

Granic said that the numbers describing the deportation of Croatian Serbs were “exaggerated”.

Many of those individuals, Granic added, feared revenge for their refusal to recognise Croatia as a state.

“People condemned crimes and the criminal conduct on Croatian side in the aftermath of Operation Storm,” Granic said, “[but] we were busy discussing peaceful integration.”

Granic told the judges that the government received information from Knin that there were “numerous incidents of criminal acts” taking place, including looting, burning, and individual murders. Demobilisation efforts were emphasised, Granic said, and the government called for an increase in the number of soldiers to the Knin area.

“We were deeply concerned in the beginning” because of the media propaganda regarding the crimes, Granic said. Radical measures had to be taken against criminal acts, he added.

“Each one of us had to do everything we could so that all criminal acts were stopped as soon as possible,” Granic told the judges.

Granic said that he met with the interior minister to request 1,500 to 3,000 policemen to the area, a “huge territory” where there was insufficient police presence.

Professional soldiers were not committing the crimes, he added.

Mikulicic asked whether Granic had been present at a government meeting where the misconduct of special police was discussed.

“I had not heard that,” Granic said.

Mikulicic asked whether Granic had ever spoken to Markac personally. Granic said that he had met with the commander in private.

“In those conversations, did you ever observe on his part any animosity or prejudice towards Croat Serb citizens?” Mikulicic asked.

“No, I did not,” Granic replied.

Julie Hawes is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
Balkans, Serbia, Croatia
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