Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Witness Describes Finding Dead Father

He says he identified his body days after Croatian army assault on their village.
By Goran Jungvirth
A witness in the trial of two Croatian army generals described this week finding his father’s body following a Croat army attack on his village.

The protected witness testifying in the war crimes trial of Rahim Ademi and Mirko Norac told Zagreb County Court that he and his neighbours fled their village of Divoselo as the Croatian army advanced during a military operation in Medak Pocket in September 1993.

Several days later, he found the corpse of his father in the nearby town of Korenica, where, following the military operation, bodies were taken by the United Nations Protection Force, UNPROFOR, to be identified.

Ademi and Norac are accused of commanding troops who killed prisoners at the time of the Medak Pocket operation in 1993, in what is the first case to be referred to the Croatian courts by The Hague war crimes tribunal.

According to the original tribunal indictment, at least 29 Serb civilians were killed and dozens more wounded in the operation, which was carried out to regain control of part of Croatia held by Serb rebels since 1991. Many of the victims were women or elderly.

The witnesses whose testimonies were heard this week were questioned via a video link at the end of March. Their testimony, given in closed session, wasn’t made public until Judge Marin Mrcela read the transcripts out in court. These measures were taken to protect the identity of the witnesses, who were mainly former Serb soldiers and civilians.

Previous witnesses have also testified that they went to Korenica, which at that point was still held by Serbs, to identify the bodies of relatives killed during the operation.

This week, the court was also shown footage of dead bodies of Serb soldiers and civilians filmed during the identification process in Korenica, just after the capture of Medak Pocket.

The Croatian army handed bodies over to UNPROFOR after the area was cleared. Most of the dead taken to Korenica were men whose bodies were burned or decayed. Many had gunshot wounds, and some were missing body parts.

Some corpses still wore the remnants of army uniforms, while others were naked – making it impossible to determine if it they were civilians or soldiers. The footage also showed piles of clothes which had been buried.

Another witness, a former member of the Serb army, testified via video link from the United States. He said he had fled after the Croatian attack, and that he and seven fellow soldiers offered no resistance although they were armed.

“We carried weapons while we were retreating, but we did not use them so as not to reveal our position,” said the witness.

He added that he had seen Croatian soldiers set houses on fire and took away cattle in trucks.

Norac and Ademi are also accused of the unlawful destruction of civilian property during the operation.

Most prosecution witnesses who have testified have said that following the Medak operation, arson and the looting of Serbian property were carried out by people dressed in Croatian army uniform.

Around 90 witnesses have already testified in the case and it is expected that Mrcela will also read the testimony of four more protected witnesses.

The trial will continue on April 17.

Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR-trained journalist in Zagreb.

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