Hague war court acquits Croat Generals Gotovina and Markac

 

Author and Balkan commentator Tim Judah: "The ruling suggests that there was no conspiracy to commit war crimes"

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A war crimes court in The Hague has overturned the convictions of two Croatian generals charged with atrocities against Serbs in the 1990s.

Appeals judges ordered the release of Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac.

In 2011 they were sentenced to 24 years and 18 years respectively over the killing of ethnic Serbs in an offensive to retake Croatia's Krajina region.

The men arrived in Zagreb later on Friday to a hero's welcome. But their release was condemned in Serbia.

'Final judgement'

At the scene

Celebrations here in General Gotovina's hometown went on long into the night.

People danced in the main square in front of the church and let off fireworks. Many of them were swathed in large Croatian flags.

The bars and cafes in this small seaside town on the Adriatic coast were doing a roaring business.

Two girls said they had come all the way from Zagreb - saying that they couldn't stay away.

One young man said it was an important moment: "The war actually ended now, I think. The aggression finished in 1995, but the legal issues and everything has finished now."

Many Croatians see this acquittal as a vindication - not just for the generals, but for Croatia's reputation, as it prepares to join the European Union.

The EU is likely to be much more popular now, one man said.

On Friday morning, the presiding judge at the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Theodor Meron, said the court had entered "a verdict of acquittal" for Gen Gotovina and Gen Markac, both aged 57.

Last year the two men were convicted of murder, persecution and plunder.

Judges at the time ruled that they were part of a criminal conspiracy led by late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman to "permanently and forcibly remove" the Serb civilian population from Krajina.

But on Friday, Judge Meron said there had been no such conspiracy.

The appeals judges also said the 2011 trial chamber had "erred in finding that artillery attacks" ordered by Gen Gotovina and Gen Markac on Krajina towns "were unlawful".

The two former generals have always argued that they did not deliberately attack civilians.

Court officials also said prosecutors would not appeal against the ruling, describing it as "the final judgement".

Neither defendant showed emotion in court, but their supporters in the gallery hugged each other and clapped after the verdict.

Start Quote

The UN war crimes court has lost all credibility”

End Quote Rasim Ljajic Serbian Deputy Prime Minister

In Zagreb's main square, thousands of people - who watched the proceedings live on giant TV - burst into applause.

"Our generals are heroes because they risked their lives to save our country and liberate the people," student Andjela Anic, 26, was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

"The verdict confirms everything that we believe in Croatia: that generals Gotovina and Markac are innocent," Croatian President Ivo Josipovic said.

On Thursday, candle-lit vigils were held in Zagreb and Catholic churches around the country as war veterans and bishops asked supporters to "raise their voices against injustice".

After the verdict, the two former generals were driven from The Hague to nearby Rotterdam airport before boarding the government plane to fly back home.

"I think it is only fair to get the boys back home," Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic told reporters.

'Move backwards'

Analysis

The acquittal has been universally welcomed in Croatia and, equally, almost universally condemned in Serbia.

It means that no Croats from Croatia (as opposed to Croats from Bosnia-Hercegovina) have been convicted by the UN's war crimes tribunal.

For Croats, this vindicates their belief that their generals are heroes and not war criminals; and for Serbs it consolidates a deeply held belief that the tribunal is a kangaroo court, whose main aim was to vilify and convict Serbs.

The core of the case was that the generals were part of a conspiracy, a "joint criminal enterprise" along with late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman to "permanently remove" the Serbs from what was then their self-proclaimed breakaway state in Croatia.

In simple language, they were accused of a plot to ethnically cleanse the region and up to 200,000 did indeed flee or were ethnically cleansed.

The appeal reverses that finding and hence says that there was no joint criminal enterprise.

The fact that crimes were committed during the Croatian retaking of Krajina is not contested and there have been convictions in the Croatian courts for this.

But the core of the matter today is that the tribunal in The Hague is saying that there was no over-arching plan to, in effect, commit war crimes.

Meanwhile, Serbia's President Tomislav Nikolic condemned the verdict as "political", saying it "will open old wounds".

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Rasim Ljajic said The Hague tribunal had "lost all its credibility", Serbia's Beta news agency reported.

Mr Ljajic said the appeals decision was "proof of selective justice which is worse than any injustice".

He added that it was "a move backwards and the public opinion of the tribunal (in Serbia) will be worse than it already is".

Gen Gotovina and Gen Markac were last year convicted over the Croatian offensive in Krajina, which had been under Serbian control since the start of the war in 1991.

About 200,000 ethnic Serbs were driven from Croatia in 1995 and at least 150 were killed in a military offensive in Krajina known as Operation Storm.

The operation to retake the region was ordered by Mr Tudjman. The Croatian leader died in 1999 while under investigation by The Hague tribunal.

The aftermath of the war is a key issue both in Croatia's domestic politics and its external relations.

The European Union made it clear to former Yugoslav republics that they will not be considered for membership until war criminals were brought to justice.

Croatia is expected to join the EU in July 2013.

 

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  • Comment number 226.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 225.

    @Hugh
    Any nation and every individual are capable under circumstances of horrific deeds and this has nothing with animals, which are actually innocent. When judging the horrors of war, essential difference is between attacker (robber) and victim (defender). In ex-YU conflict only one side was attacker - Serbs.

  • Comment number 224.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 223.

    Weiss,
    Croatia did not denied Serbs the Status of constitutionality.
    on the contrary, Croatia gave that status to some other nationalities ( in addition to Serbs)

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 222.

    Muslims have nothing to do with this. Serbs were the agressors and their minority in Croatia joined with Serbia proper/the JNA to occupy a recognized part of our territory. It was an illegal annexation, led by backwards/rural farmers with guns who were not interested in negotiation. Gotovina led the operation to reclaim the territory. If this did not happen than Croatia today would be like Bosnia.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 221.

    The attitude of Croats towards the war reminds me of Japanese attitudes towards WW2 (even now stoking tensions with China). What is worrying is the obscurantist denial of the horrific crimes committed by Croats (particularly against Bosnian Muslims but also Serbs).

    In Serbia, it's more mixed. Some nationalist headbangers remain, but the middle class recognises the country's crimes (like Germany)

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 220.

    willturngrey, I'm being upset because this tribunal only sentences Serbs, not Croats, not Muslims. And we all know that bad people at all sides made atrocities. I'm upset because those tribunals only serve as an instrument to bring more hatred, more instability and bloodshed amongst the people in the Balkans. I'd be equally upset if they were convicting only Croats or only Muslims.

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 219.

    When there was a war going on, some Serbs, again individuals made a positions all over a Zagreb in high places - flats, from were they were shooting on passers on street. We were scared. And Croats and my friends Serbs. After our army killed them, Serbs announced on their local TV that Serbs are beeing killd in Zagreb and that was etnical cleaning.:)

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 218.

    Good new the Generals have been released and the Croatians have ticked a box to join the EU.

    But can they now please work on the unbelievable levels of corruption the country is self destructing with.

    The police, the judiciary, the politicians, the government inspectors work together to profit from the people rather than serve them.

    Every government officials meeting should be recorded!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 217.

    Hugh you are clearly a snob, such as live high in their own importance. Wouldn't you call English hooligans animals? That's at the time of peace,btw. Please watch your own countrymen when they go on drinking binges. We are not animals. We are a nation that welcome a lot of western world tourists in millions each year. We don't welcome violence though, and we only react to it like any other nation.

  • Comment number 216.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 215.

    150 were killed in a military offensive in Krajina known as Operation Storm??? One decimal missing!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 214.

    For non-Balkan people (since everyone there already knows it), i cannot recommend highly enough 'The Bridge on the Drina' by Nobel Laureate, and Croat, Ivo Andric, for an insight into the historical context of everything that happened in the former Yugoslavia.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 213.

    @ josefG yeah, right Wikipedia is the right way to go, hahaha, what are you, a mouse? my heart goes to the victims as I myself was as a 9-year-old so at least you should display some human traits round here, I dont care who is to blame! I am only sad that someone here actually finds any of the comments amusing, i mean we are talking about dead people whatever their ethnic is, come on!!!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 212.

    Tony of Britania, Hugh
    Many Croats were sentenced for war crimes, number of sentenced Serbs is even higher. But that is logical because Serbs invaded Croatia (and Bosnia)
    btw
    Do you think your countrymen did not shoot at Afghan and Iraqi babies and kill them?
    If you do, then you are in for a shock, because they did.
    First clean up your yard

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 211.

    So Croatia liberated land from Serbs who protected them from the Ottoman Empire
    But once the land was liberated they did nothing with it, there are numerous, schools, factories, railway stations since 1995 which are left in ruins and untouched.
    At least the people who once live there for centuries respected their homeland.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 210.

    @Hugh
    Oh, rly? Please do tell us some more about us "animals" and how you "clean up our mess." I'd really love to hear that story.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 209.

    I just told my Serb friend via Skype how I'm commenting here. I pasted my comments to him. He said: "I feel so nervous in the stomach, thank you for giving your voice to me. I don't know what to say. The saddest for me is that I supported conviction of Serb generals like Mladic, fighting nationalist Serbs at internet forums, saying that every criminal should be brought to justice." That's a human!

  • Comment number 208.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 207.

    So amusing! Especially love sensitive everybody is.

 

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