|"Gen. Ante Gotovina, center, talked to his lawyers on Friday at The Hague, where he was sentenced to 24 years in prison." (Jerry Lampen/Pool photo)|
By Marlise Simons
The New York Times, April 15, 2011
"In a shock to Croatia over its conduct of Balkan warfare in the 1990s, a United Nations court on Friday found a Croatian general, Ante Gotovina, guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in a campaign he led to regain Croatian land and drive Serbs out of the Krajina region in 1995. The verdicts of three Croatian generals accused of war crimes were shown on a large screen on a street in Zagreb, drawing an emotional response from the crowd. General Gotovina, who was arrested in the Canary Islands in 2005 after four years on the run, was sentenced to 24 years in prison because troops under his command shelled towns, looted, killed and persecuted civilians. The court sentenced Mladen Markac, another general in the campaign, to 18 years, but acquitted a third, Ivan Cermak, of all charges and ordered his release. The decisions by a three-judge panel of the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague were in effect an indirect verdict on the late president of Croatia, Franjo Tudjman, who died in 1999 as prosecutors at The Hague were planning to have him indicted. The court said Mr. Tudjman was the leader of a 'joint criminal enterprise' to drive Serbs from Krajina, a hilly region they had long inhabited in central and southern Croatia, and to repopulate the area with Croats only. In 1991 Serbian rebels, backed by Belgrade, broke away and created a separate statelet there. The verdicts also raised fresh questions about the role Croatia says American advisers played in the campaign, a turning point in the Balkan wars of 1991-95. During and after the operation to drive Serbian military and police forces from Krajina, about 300 civilians were killed, many in their homes, and some 90,000 Serbs fled Croatia. Thousands of their abandoned homes were looted and burned. The campaign was planned by Mr. Tudjman and Croatian commanders, who have said they were helped by active and retired American military personnel.
The presiding judge, Alphons Orie of the Netherlands, said the case was not about earlier crimes in the region, nor about the Croat forces' resorting to warfare. 'This case was about whether Serb civilians in the Krajina were the targets of crimes and whether the accused should be held criminally liable,' he said. In the center of Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, where several thousand people watched the court session on a giant screen, many jeered the verdicts. The campaign to retake Krajina was widely seen in Croatia as a just military victory and a powerful affirmation of the country's identity. The three generals have been treated as heroes, with the government paying their legal bills and providing experts and documents to support their case. At the same time, the government was slow to turn over material to prosecutors, and as Judge Orie noted, some documents 'were never provided.' Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor of Croatia called the verdicts 'unacceptable' and said the government would try to overturn it. ... General Gotovina, 55, has a résumé with multiple adventures that include serving in the French Foreign Legion and training right-wing paramilitaries in Latin America. The question of what role the United States played during the Krajina campaign has remained a matter of intense intrigue in Croatia and Serbia. Over four days in August 1995, the Croatian Army swiftly took Krajina, about one-third of Croatia, from the Serbian forces that had occupied it for four years. The Serbs put up little resistance, instead withdrawing their armor and calling on Serbian civilians to leave. Once Krajina was secured, General Gotovina's forces linked up with Bosnian Croat forces and rolled over Serbian units deep inside Bosnia, where a few weeks earlier Bosnian Serbs had outraged the world by overrunning the United Nations safe haven in Srebrenica and massacring thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys. The defeats in Krajina and Bosnia, among the first suffered by Serbian forces, combined with NATO bombing to bring Slobodan Milosevic, then president of Serbia, to the negotiating table, resulting eventually in the Dayton peace agreement that ended the Bosnian war. Croatian officials have said that United States military advisers and a Virginia-based contractor, Military Professional Resources, trained Croatian forces and assisted in planning, and that American drone aircraft supplied intelligence about Serbian movements. The trial revealed no new details about those assertions, and lawyers on both sides said the issue was not relevant to the case of the three generals. [...]"