Mladen Markac's defense counsel denies any "personal interest" in the Operation Storm case and refuses to withdraw from the case. Today's hearing dealt with the motions filed by General Gotovina's defense. Legal arguments were exchanged on the motion challenging the jurisdiction of the Tribunal and alleging defects in the form of the indictments in the case against the three Croatian generals

Miroslav Separovic in the courtroomMiroslav Separovic in the courtroom

Zagreb attorney Miroslav Separovic, representing General Mladen Markac, denied today he had any "personal interest" in the Operation Storm case, that he "threatened the interests of his client" or "behaved improperly" in any way. In other words, he has done nothing that would call for proceedings to be instituted against him for the violation of defense counsel legal ethics.

The Trial Chamber invited Separovic to explain this after its formal conclusion yesterday that he was "in a conflict of interest", because it was highly likely that he would be called to testify at the trial of Ante Gotovina, Mladen Markac and Ivan Cermak about his personal knowledge of the events at the time of Operation Storm. He was the Croatian Justice Minister at the time.

In mid-2006, Ante Gotovina's defense announced it intended to call Separovic to take the stand. Today Gotovina’s lawyers asked the Trial Chamber whether it would "change the decision made yesterday if we decided not to call” the former Justice Minister who is now representing Markac. Pre-trial judge Moloto decided this offer "came too late", two months before the beginning of the trial and after both the Trial and Appeals Chamber issued three warnings regarding the potential conflict of interest and the necessity to eliminate it on time.

After hearing Separovic, the Trial Chamber brought today's hearing to a close without indicating what decision it would reach and when.

Before Markac’s defense counsel made his statement, the motions filed by General Gotovina's defense challenging the jurisdiction of the Tribunal and alleging defects in the form of the indictment in the Operation Storm case were argued for one hour. Both the prosecution and the defense had 10 minutes each to orally present their legal arguments in favor and against the motion claiming that the Tribunal lacked jurisdiction in this case. “After Operation Storm was brought to a successful conclusion, there was no armed conflict" and after "the exodus of the political and military leadership of the self-proclaimed Republika Srpska" there were no "organized and intensive activities" of the forces opposing the Croatian authorities, the defense argues in support of its motion. Goran Mikulicic, General Markac's co-counsel did not deny that killings, looting, burning down of Serb houses and other crimes had been committed. However, he pointed to the fact that those crimes had not been committed in the context of an armed conflict and thus they were in "the jurisdiction of the Croatian judiciary, and not that of the Tribunal".

As the beginning of the trial is scheduled for 7 May 2007, the Trial Chamber is expected to rule on this motion soon.