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'Hero' Norac Denies Guilt

Controversial former Croatian general appears before the tribunal to answer war crimes charges.
By Alison Freebairn

Former Croatian general Mirko Norac, who is viewed as a hero by many in his native country, has pleaded not guilty to five war crimes charges before the Hague tribunal.

The 36-year-old, wearing a dark blue suit and striped shirt, showed no emotion as the registrar read out the full text of the indictment against him on Thursday, July 8.

Norac is accused of individual criminal and command responsibility for crimes committed against Serb civilians in the so-called “Medak Pocket” enclave in September 1993.

The indictment alleges that, among other crimes, soldiers of the Ninth Guards Brigade which Norac commanded were responsible for the murder of Serb civilians as well as that of wounded or captured combatants.

They are also alleged to have burned one Serb woman alive while taunting her, and mutilated the corpse of another.

The prosecutor also claims that Norac's troops terrorised the Serb civilian population, plundered personal belongings and equipment, poisoned wells and destroyed homes and property - rendering the Medak Pocket uninhabitable as a result.

In his initial appearance before pre-trial Judge Liu Daqun, Norac answered "not guilty" to each of the five counts - two of crimes against humanity and three of violation of the laws and customs of war.

No date for a trial has yet been set, and the tribunal will have to decide whether or not to delegate the case to the Croatian legal system, to be tried on its territory.

However, speaking at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York on June 29, Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte confirmed that her office intended to request that Norac's case be referred to Croatia.

The accused is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence handed down by a Croatian war crimes court for offences committed against Serbs civilians in the Gospic region in 1991.

His arrest on those charges some ten years later sparked angry protests in Zagreb, as Norac - who in 1993 was the youngest colonel in the Croatian army before being promoted to general, and cultivated the image and traditional costume of a historic Croat warrior – is still widely viewed as a hero for his role in securing the republic's independence.

Norac is the third high-profile Croatian to be indicted over the events in the Medak Pocket in 1993. Proceedings against Rahim Ademi, who was indicted in 2001, are in the pre-trial stage and the prosecutor may seek to join his case to that of Norac.

The elderly former general Janko Bobetko, whose refusal to surrender to the tribunal sparked an international row over Croatia's cooperation with The Hague and even raised the spectre of sanctions against the country, died last year.

Alison Freebairn is an IWPR editor in The Hague.