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

Witness Says Police Probed Krajina Looting

But he tells judges that over-stretched force struggled to address all suspected crimes in region.
By Simon Jennings
A witness testifying in the trial of former Croatian general Ante Gotovina confirmed defence claims that police investigated alleged crimes committed in the Krajina region during August 1995.

Former head of the Zadar criminal investigation division of the Croatian police Ive Kardum said this week that Croatian soldiers or civilians suspected of looting after Operation Storm – an offensive aimed at retaking the Croatian region from Serb rebels – were stopped at checkpoints and taken to police stations.

“[The suspect] would be taken into the closest police station and the criminal process would begin,” the prosecution witness told the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY.

Gotovina, the commander of Operation Storm, is standing trial alongside fellow Croatian generals Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac, accused of orchestrating the expulsion of Serbs from Croatia between July and September 1995.

As confirmed by previous witnesses, the prosecution alleges that there was a lack of control over Croatian police, soldiers and civilians, who looted property in the aftermath of Operation Storm.

According to the indictment, Gotovina not only failed to prevent, but also ordered the looting and burning of Serb homes in the region.

Meanwhile, prosecutors say that Markac – who was the commander of the Croatian Special Police throughout 1995 – knew that his subordinates were committing crimes, yet failed to issue any orders to stop criminal activity or to apprehend the perpetrators.

In their pre-trial brief, they further allege that international observers asking for an investigation to be carried out received an inadequate response from Markac, who, they also accuse of “[participating] in falsifying an investigation in order to cover up the crimes”.

Markac’s defence contended this week that such crimes committed by Croatians were, in fact, investigated.

Under cross-examination by Markac’s defence lawyer Goran Mikulicic, the witness explained that those suspected of looting were given a receipt by police for the goods in their possession, which were either confiscated or returned pending a decision by a court.

“From a legal standpoint, everything was done as it should be… Persons with goods would be taken in for processing. They would be interviewed about where they got the goods,” said Kardum.

Suspects were allowed to keep cumbersome items – such as livestock – until a court decision had been reached, said the witness.

“The court decided if an item was confiscated for good or just temporarily,” Kardum told judges. “The court made this decision.”

Mikulicic also showed the Hague tribunal some of the 500 receipts issued by police officers in 1995.

Prosecutors say Markac “openly condoned” the crimes committed by his subordinates and did not employ the civilian police at his disposal to investigate.

However, when Mikulicic asked if he had ever received orders from someone in his chain of command not to investigate crimes, Kardum vehemently denied this.

“No, absolutely not. Never,” he replied.

While Cermak’s defence team declined to cross-examine the witness, Gotovina’s lawyer Luka Misetic questioned him further about police matters in the Zadar-Knin area of Krajina.

Misetic showed Kardum a map marking the territory of the police administration of Zadar-Knin before and after the offensive. According to this, the administrative area increased from 1,200 to 6,350 square kilometres.

Misetic contended that the sheer size of territory meant Kardum’s police force lacked the resources to deal with all the crimes committed.

“Is it fair to say that your police administration was not adequately equipped to deal with the situation it found itself in when its territorial jurisdiction expanded five times its size in a matter of days?” asked Misetic.

“Yes, exactly. Thank you for such a precise map,” replied Kardum.

Misetic also discussed procedure in relation to stopping those suspected of looting at checkpoints. He suggested that in remote areas, police could only issue a receipt and follow up later because they “did not have enough men to escort people from the checkpoint [to a police station]”.

“That’s quite true,” confirmed the witness.

Presiding judge Alphons Orie noted a discrepancy in the testimony of the witness who, on the one hand, said that suspected lootings were investigated and, on the other, said that suspects were sometimes not taken to a police station.

According to Kardum, suspects were taken to police stations 70 per cent of the time. However, he added that in more remote locations, and in cases where people were suspected of taking minor items – such as a single sheep or lamb – this was not done.

The prosecution also alleges that Serbs in the region were kept in collection centres before being systematically transferred out of Croatia. Misetic asked the witness whether this was the case in Zadar.

“As for the reception centres for prisoners of war, I claim with full awareness of what I am saying that not a single person was transferred outside of Croatia,” said the witness.

Although Kardum had already given two statements to the tribunal’s prosecutors – in 2004 and 2007 – it appeared that much of that evidence was contradicted by his testimony in court this week.

In one of those statements, he had declared that on his arrival in Knin on August 7, 1995, he saw smoke billowing from burning houses, and was afraid of the Croatian police and soldiers around the town.

This week, he testified about the protection the Croatian troops had afforded Serb civilians, claiming that the Serbs had spoken well of them.

The trial continues next week.

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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