Prosecutors Reduce Request for Croatian Army Papers

Government says artillery units in Krajina offensive never actually produced many of the shelling reports that prosecutors were demanding.

Prosecutors Reduce Request for Croatian Army Papers

Government says artillery units in Krajina offensive never actually produced many of the shelling reports that prosecutors were demanding.

Tuesday, 5 January, 2010
Tribunal prosecutors have significantly scaled down their request for Zagreb to supply army documentation relating to Operation Storm, the 1995 offensive in which three Croatian military commanders are accused of war crimes.

The reduction in the request, from 370 documents to 63, came after a Croatian government delegation managed to convince prosecutors that some of the documents they had requested never existed.

The prosecution in The Hague is seeking reports from artillery and rocket units dispatched to senior staff in the Split Command Area, then commanded by former Croatian general Ante Gotovina.

Gotovina is accused, along with former general Ivan Cermak and former police chief Mladen Markac, of taking part in a joint criminal enterprise to drive the ethnic Serb population out of the Krajina region of Croatia in 1995.

Operation Storm in August 1995 saw Croatian government forces recapture Krajina, which had been held by rebel Serbs since 1991.

According to the indictment, Gotovina was the overall operational commander of the offensive in the southern part of Krajina, while Markac was in charge of special police units and Cermak headed the garrison at Knin.

One of the elements of the indictment alleges that Croatian troops engaged in wanton and excessive shelling of the town of Knin and other localities in Krajina, and Hague prosecutors argue that the artillery documents would clarify the pattern of bombardment.

At a December 16 hearing at the Hague tribunal, representatives of the Croatian government restated their position that "a major part of the documents demanded from Operation Storm were never actually produced".

The prosecution had previously claimed that during Operation Storm, individual artillery groups compiled activity reports twice a day, in the morning and afternoon, but last week it conceded that they may have done so just once a day.

The quest for the artillery journals began after September 2008, when, at the prosecution’s request, the Hague tribunal issued an order to Zagreb to supply documents from Operation Storm.

Chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz, speaking at the United Nations Security Council on December 3, said that in failing to supply the missing documents, Croatia had fallen down on its obligation to cooperate with the tribunal.

He invited Croatia to urgently pursue "a comprehensive and credible investigation" and locate the missing documents.

Croatia needs to receive a positive evaluation of its cooperation with the tribunal as a major condition for imminent talks on accession to the European Union.

Representatives of the Croatian government, Hague prosecutors and the defence teams have now accepted a proposal by presiding judge Alphons Orie to hold meetings outside the courtroom to discuss the military documentation.

These special meetings, Judge Orie explained, will also be attended by representatives of the trial chamber and at least one judge.

"We are ready for such meetings – the sooner the better, as the present situation is mostly damaging the Republic of Croatia", said Gordan Markotic, who heads the Croatian justice ministry’s department for cooperation with the tribunal, and led his government’s delegation.

"It is because of this issue that we cannot start accession talks with the EU in the judiciary and fundamental rights chapter, and it is therefore to our big delight that this issue is finally about to be solved."

The arguments brought by the prosecution are based largely on a statement by Marko Rajcic, former commander of artillery for the Split area, who testified as a defence witness in the Gotovina, Cermak and Markac case last February.

Rajcic was invited back to the tribunal in May to answer questions about the listing of artillery targets for the Zadar operation group. At that hearing, he said artillery units were supposed to compile written reports informing their superiors of their actions.

Asked why there were no reports on artillery activity by the Northern Operational Group, Croatian government representatives said these documents were not required since the group commander and the head of artillery in the Split command area were one and the same person, General Rahim Ademi, and he did not have to write reports for himself.

On December 9 and 10, before the tribunal session that reviewed the documentation issue, the homes, offices and cars of several individuals in Croatia suspected of concealing or destroying documents were searched, including Ademi’s apartment.

The search operation also targeted the office of Gotovina's defence team, three members of which were detained, and computers and various documents were seized by police.

As a mark of protest against this search, Gotovina and Markac failed to appear in the Hague courtroom on December 11. They signalled that they would withdraw their presence from the trial completely unless the tribunal ordered the Croatian government to cease all action against their defence teams.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Bosnia.

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