Witnesses Join Squabble in Zagreb Trial

Wrangling continues over whether the two Croatian officers standing trial, or indeed anyone else, were really in command of a 1993 offensive.

Witnesses Join Squabble in Zagreb Trial

Wrangling continues over whether the two Croatian officers standing trial, or indeed anyone else, were really in command of a 1993 offensive.

Former Croatian officers swapped accusations in a Zagreb courtroom this week over who commanded forces accused of war crimes in a controversial 1993 operation, but united to dismiss claims that their troops attacked United Nations peacekeepers.

Mirko Norac and Rahim Ademi are on trial in Zagreb for war crimes allegedly committed by Croatian troops under their command during the fighting to seize an area of land called the “Medak Pocket” in September 1993.

The indictment alleges that at least 29 Serb civilians were killed and dozens were seriously injured during the operation, and that Croatian forces killed at least five Serb soldiers who had been captured or wounded.

The Hague tribunal agreed to a Croatian government request to have the case tried by its own judiciary in 2005, and the trial is ongoing.

When General Petar Stipetic appeared in the stand this week, he disputed the account given by Canadian troops from the United Nations’ UNPROFOR mission who were sent in to separate the two sides in the fighting.

Stipetic is a former chief of staff of the Croatian army, but at the time of the Medak assault he was in command of the Zagreb operational zone. He was involved in negotiations with the Serbs to end the hostilities in Medak.

He told the court that the Canadians fabricated accounts of battles with Croatian forces.

“The real truth is there were no battles,” he told the court, alleging that the Canadians invented the war crimes allegations after the event.

“UNPROFOR representatives warned us of destruction, fires and plundering, household appliances being taken away… but they never discussed any crimes against civilians,” he said.

Stipetic added that Ademi – at the time a brigadier serving as acting commander of the Gospic Military District - had asked troops to stop plundering, but that other officers had already usurped his powers.

Ademi’s defence counsel produced a ship’s log in which a Croatian naval captain gave orders for a bombardment of the area – located on the Dalmatian coastal strip – without Ademi’s approval.

“This shows that Ademi’s powers as commander of the operation were reduced to zero,” said Stipetic. “If someone else commands the artillery and sends reports to the high command, that means powers have been taken away from the commander of the operation.”

Retired admiral Davor Domazet-Loso, who headed the Croatian General Staff’s Intelligence Service at the time of the operation, gave testimony after Stipetic, and agreed with his contention that the Canadians exaggerated the scale of combat with Croatian forces.

“It is completely unclear to me what the award of 800 Canadian medals means. They were apparently handed out for the biggest battle since the Korean War,” he said. “They said they killed 26 Croats in that battle. Since that is not true, I wonder whether their victims were Serbs. The Croats never had battles with UNPROFOR.”

The Ademi-Norac trial has been marked by attempts by each defence team to downplay its own client’s involvement in the Medak operation and highlight the commanding role played by the other. This week saw witnesses being drawn into the same kind of arguments.

In his testimony earlier in the week, Stipetic alleged that in later years, when Domazet-Loso went on to become Croatian army’s chief of staff, he removed documentation relating to the Medak Pocket operation.

Domazet-Loso denied this allegation, and insisted he played no role in the 1993 operation.

“Personally, I never issued any orders in that area for the Medak Pocket operation, nor did I have the authority to do so. I could make suggestions to the commander and he could accept or dismiss them, but I could not issue orders, nor did I do so,” he told the court.

In cross-examination, Ademi suggested that the witness had in fact been fully aware of and involved in the operation.

“With the authorisation of Janko Bobetko, Chief of the General Staff, he [

Domazet-Loso] ordered the operation as well,” said Ademi.

The trial will continue on September 19.

Goran Jungvirth is a regular IWPR contributor in Croatia.

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