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Martic Judgment May Help Operation Storm Defence

Defence lawyers of three former Croatian generals claim Milan Martic verdict could bolster their case.
By Caroline Tosh
The judgment passed in the trial of the former president of the so-called Serbian Autonomous District, SAO, Krajina, Milan Martic will help the defence case of three Croatian generals awaiting trial at the Hague tribunal, say their lawyers.

Martic was sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment on June 12 after being convicted of atrocities carried out between 1991 and 1995 in Croatia and western Bosnia, including persecution, murder, torture, inhumane acts, and forcible transfers.

The former Croatian Serb rebel leader was found guilty of participating in a joint criminal enterprise, with the goal of creating a united Serbian state to include parts of Croatia and Bosnia.

The defence lawyers of former Croatian generals Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac - charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Croatia during Operation Storm in 1995 - say that key findings in the Martic judgment will help them defend their clients.

This Croatian military offensive ended the life of the SAO Krajina, which rebel Serbs established four years earlier, following the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, and which covered roughly a quarter of Croatia’s territory.

Prosecutors in the case against the three generals allege Croatian forces advanced into Krajina in the summer of 1995, killing some 150 civilians, plundering and destroying property, and forcing tens of thousands of local Serbs to flee.

The indictment states that Gotovina, along with Cermak, Markac and others, participated in a joint criminal enterprise – “the common purpose of which was the forcible and permanent removal of the Serb population from the Krajina region”.

But Gotovina’s lawyer, Luka Misetic, says that findings in the Martic judgment could help challenge this allegation and also justify the Croatian military operation to reclaim the region.

Judges in the Martic trial found the “the evidence is clear that Milan Martic actively worked together with the other [joint criminal enterprise] participants to fulfill the objective of a united Serb state”.

In a report by Croatian news agency Hina on June 12, Misetic said that the Martic verdict was beneficial to the defence of his client because it established the existence of a joint criminal enterprise with the aim of expelling non-Serbs and joining the Croatian territory to Serbia.

In the agency report, Misetic explained that this finding could help counter prosecutors’ claim that Croatia had the goal of cleansing its territory of Serbs. He said the verdict helped explain the reasons for launching the military offensive and established that Operation Storm was justified.

According to the report, Cermak and Markac's lawyers agreed, and said that findings in Martic’s sentence would make their job easier because it explained the circumstances and the state of affairs that preceded Operation Storm.

Goran Mikulicic, Markac’s defence lawyer, told IWPR that the Martic judgment was “very significant” and he would like to submit evidence from the trial into his client’s defence case.

“The position of prosecutors in the Martic case is quite similar to the approach of the defence in the case of the three generals,” he said.

Mikulicic said that the existence of a plan to cleanse Croatian territory and annex it to Serbia - coupled with the fact that the SAO Krajina was an “illegal entity” within Croatia - supports the defence position that Operation Storm was “completely legal”.

The trial of the former generals was due to start May 7, but has been delayed due to a number of unresolved matters, including a possible conflict of interest involving Cermak's lawyers, Cedo Prodanovic and Jadranka Slokovic, which ended in their dismissal by judges.

No new trial date has been set so far.

Caroline Tosh is an IWPR reporter in London.

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