Sunday, April 17, 2011

Croatian generals jailed for war crimes against Serbs

Two Croatian commanders of the 1990s war against the Serbs have received lengthy jail terms for war crimes in a landmark verdict that incriminated the entire Zagreb political leadership of the time for waging a campaign of terror, bombing and murder aimed at ridding the country of its large Serbian minority.

Judges in The Hague found Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač guilty on eight of nine counts for commanding operations that included the shelling of civilians, the torching of Serbian homes in south-west Croatia, the murder of hundreds of elderly Serbs and the forced exodus of at least 20,000 from the Serbian minority rooted in the Dalmatian hinterland for centuries.

It represents the most damning verdict on Croatia's conduct of the 1991-95 war in 17 years of investigations by the international war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Gotovina commanded the August 1995 operations that ended a four-year Serbian insurgency and partition of Croatia and effectively won the war for Zagreb. He was given a 24-year jail sentence. Markač, who commanded police paramilitaries in the same Operation Storm, was jailed for 18 years.

A third accused, Ivan Cermak, was acquitted.

The verdicts were met with outrage in the cities of Croatia where thousands of former fighters rallied to watch the trial outcome transmitted from The Hague on giant screens.

The result represents a disaster for Croatia and a triumphant vindication for Serbia. The Croats have been told that the decisive victory of the war, sealing their independent statehood, was a war crime.

The judges went further than finding two former generals guilty, ruling that the regime of the late President Franjo Tudjman planned a campaign of systematic violence to empty south-western Croatia of its Serbian minority in order to resettle the region with ethnic Croats.

The current government in Zagreb was stunned by the sweeping verdict.

"Having learned that [the tribunal] has found that the Croatian state leadership acted in a joint criminal enterprise, I must declare that to the government of Croatia this is unacceptable," said Jadranka Kosor, the prime minister. "Our view of the operation is absolutely clear: it was a legitimate military and police action to liberate Croatian state territory from occupation."

President Ivo Josipović described the verdict as "shocking".

The outcome of the three-year trial creates major problems for Kosor. She is squeezed on one side by a nationalist backlash supported by a recalcitrant and powerful Catholic church, and on the other side by pressure from Brussels to be more proactive on war crimes and the treatment of minority Serbs as Croatia aims to conclude its negotiations to join the European Union. Kosor is also seeking re-election later this year.

In the most telling findings, the panel of judges found that the 1990s regime, led by the hardline Tudjman, plotted and then carried out the policy of shelling, torching and killing to force a Serbian exodus.

Almost 200,000 Serbs fled Croatia in the summer and autumn of 1995.

"Croatian forces committed acts of murder, cruel treatment, inhumane acts, destruction, plunder, persecution and deportation. There was a widespread and systematic attack directed against this Serb civilian population, [creating] an environment in which those present there had no choice but to leave," the judges found.

While focused on Gotovina and two fellow accused, the trial has been the main opportunity for probing the strategy and conduct of the wartime leadership of Croatia. The key political leaders such as Tudjman, the defence minister Gojko Šušak and the army chief Janko Bobetko all died before having to face the courts. The Gotovina case has served as a proxy trial.

A former French legionnaire who returned to Croatia when the war erupted in 1991, Gotovina commanded the central operations that won the war for Croatia in August 1995, retaking the strategic town of Knin in the Dalmatian hinterland. Knin was the seat of the four-year-old Serbian rebellion that left Croatia crippled. Gotovina was indicted for war crimes in 2001. Previously tipped off by contacts in the Croatian government, he went on the run for four years until arrested in a Tenerife hotel at the end of 2005. For years the Croatian government blocked attempts to locate him until it performed a U-turn to unlock its EU negotiations.

For many Croats, especially on the right, Gotovina is a national hero. Catholic bishops this week denounced the tribunal, accusing it of deliberately confusing victim and aggressor.

Operation Storm was prosecuted at lightning speed, highly successfully with strong American backing. It represented the denouement to the four-year war. A fortnight earlier at Srebrenica in Bosnia, the Serbs had committed the worst massacre of the Yugoslav wars, murdering almost 8,000 Muslim males.

Following the Croatian rout of the Serbian rebels, the war was over and Croatia's independence secured. Bosnia's fragile peace pact was struck three months later.

In the wake of the victory Croatian forces went on the rampage, torching the homes of elderly Serbs who did not flee and murdering hundreds.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Laid-back station attendant prevents robbery with chair (VIDEO)

A laid-back gas station attendant has warded off an attempted robbery with a chair and an easygoing attitude.

The 29-year-old Ivo Gulin was working at the Tromilja Benz gas station near the Dalmatian town of Sibenik when two armed robbers entered the store around 4am on Friday morning.

Gulin greeted the first would-be attacker comfortably seated in his chair. After he explained to him that the register was not worth the trouble, the second robber entered the store, took the metal rod that his friend was wielding and started approaching Gulin.

Gulin deflected the attack with a chair, after which both attackers fled, the daily Jutarnji List writes.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Protests in 15 Croatian Cities

Anti-government protesters in a peaceful march through Zagreb
Some 10.000 people rallied in the Croatian capital on Saturday to demand the government resign, AFP reports.  ”Everyone, on the streets!”, “We are Croatia!”, shouted the protesters amid the noise of whistles as they marched from a central Zagreb square to the headquarters of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party. 

Since February 22 similar protests, first called through social networking site Facebook, have been organised every other day in the capital, but other towns followed. ”Jaco, just go!” protesters shouted referring to Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor as they approached the HDZ seat, secured by a heavy anti-riot police presence.  The protestors marched for three hours, blocking the traffic in the city centre and stopped briefly in front of the agriculture ministry in a sign of support to the country’s farmers who for days have rallied in several regions to demand state subsidies. 

Police said around 1,000 policemen had been deployed throughout the capital. Students, pensioners, workers and young people took part in the march, demanding early elections to be held and threatening a general strike.  Similar protests were held in several other Croatian towns. ”I hope more people will join us to send a clear message to the corrupt government that it is time to leave,” Zdenka Bosnic, a 62-year-old pensioner, told AFP.

Zeljko, a 34-year-old translator who did not want to give his last name, said he only wanted “the government to quit”.  Elections are due later this year or in early 2012. Kosor has pledged to hold them by the end of this year but says calling polls now would jeopardise Croatia’s bid to join the European Union, with talks in the final stages.

Croatia won independence from communist Yugoslavia in a 1991-1995 war that, with fraudulent privatisations in the 1990s, deeply hurt its economy. It was later hit hard by the global downturn, with unemployment now at an eight-year high of around 20 percent.  Revelations of corruption reaching the top levels in politics, including Kosor’s predeces