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Regional Report: Hague to Question Croatian Generals

The Hague wants to talk to three former Croat army leaders - and they're happy to comply.
By Drago Hedl

As Croatia resists tribunal demands for former chief of staff Janko Bobetko, Hague investigators have signalled that they want to interview another onetime military leader, plus two retired generals.


Investigators have not released any details of why they want to question the men - former chief of staff Admiral Davor Domazet and Generals Ivan Korade and Mladen Markac - who have agreed speak to tribunal officials in Zagreb. All were involved in controversial operations during the Croatian war of the early- to mid-Nineties.


Domazat and Markac both commanded units involved in the 1993 Medak Pocket offensive, which Bobetko is accused of command responsibility for.


There is speculation that Korade, former commander of the elite Seventh Guard Brigade, nicknamed the "Pumas", is wanted for questioning over Operation Storm, an August 1995 offensive to capture Serb-held Knin, in the Krajina region.


Public attention has focused on Admiral Domazet, who was among 12 senior commanders forced to retire in September 2000 by Croatian president Stipe Mesic after they criticised him.


Domazet has stated publicly that he is willing to help the tribunal. "If I have made some mistake, and I believe that I have not, I am ready to fulfil my obligation at any moment without a doubt," he said.


Being summoned for questioning does not imply that charges will follow, but Domazet said he was prepared to face war crimes indictments "if that is my fate".


Hague investigators are expected to question Domazet about his role in the Medak Pocket action.


According to orders from indicted General Janko Bobetko, Domazet oversaw Croat units' withdrawal from the Serb-held region, an operation coordinated with United Nations forces. Domazet is thus likely to have known what was happening in the field.


Hague investigators are probably interested in whether Domazet reported the alleged crimes committed there to the Croatian leadership, and whether he requested that those responsible be brought to justice. If he cannot prove this, he could also face accusations of command responsibility.


During the same operation, General Markac was commander of the Croatian special police, a unit controlled by the ministry of internal affairs, but subordinated in wartime to the army's general staff.


Special police units are thought to have been involved in guarding the flanks of brigades involved in the Medak Pocket and are not thought to have entered the region itself.


The Hague's interest in Korade is probably motivated by his role in Operation Storm.


Since 1991, Knin had been the captial of the self-declared Republic of Serb Krajina, an area of Croatia held by Serb separatists. Korade's Seventh Guard Brigade was the first to enter the town after a lightening offensive that captured most of the region in two days.


Former Croatian general Ante Gotovina, on the run since June 2001, has been accused of command responsibility for crimes allegedly committed during this operation.


Hague investigators may also want to talk with Korade over his role in another battle, that of Mrkonjic Grad in Bosnia-Hercegovina, which was fought shortly after the Storm offensive.


In the autumn of 1995, Croatian and Bosnian Croat forces united to enter the town, pushing out Serb forces.


When, in the spring of 1996, they retreated as part of the Dayton Peace Agreement - which awarded the town to Republic Srpska, RS - a mass grave containing 181 bodies was discovered.


The RS authorities and The Hague investigators launched an inquiry, which claimed that at least 106 of the dead were killed after they were captured.


The willingness of the three to cooperate with the tribunal makes a change from the attitudes of two recent indictees - Gotovina and Bobetko - both of whom refuse to recognise The Hague.


The indictment of Bobetko in September this year caused strong protests from Croatia's extreme right. Fearing the possible fall of his centre-left coalition government, Prime Minister Ivica Racan has refused to extradite the 83-year-old former general and has filed a complaint to the appeals chamber.


The complaint, which is still being considered, says the indictment goes against the Croatian constitution and also takes issue with some Hague procedures. But officials say privately that the objections have little legal foundation and are likely to be overturned.


Racan has also requested opinion from the Croatian constitutional court, which ruled that, although the attack at Medak was "legitimate", the tribunal was within its rights to indict Bobetko.


Officials say off the record that the position of the court is correct, but there are still concerns about inflaming popular opinion by sending Croatia's "heroes" to answer questions about war crimes.


Drago Hedl is a regular IWPR contributor in Osijek.


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