General Ante Gotovina's defense denies the prosecution argument about the excessive shelling of Knin and forcible expulsion of civilian population. They admit crimes were committed, but not as many as the indictment alleges. The defense notes that civilian authorities assumed responsibility for security in that area on 6 August 1995 while Gotovina returned to his ‘main task’, which was to stop Mladic’s VRS

Ante Gotovina in the courtroomAnte Gotovina in the courtroom

If there is one person that brought about the end of the VRS and the end of the war in BH, it is General Ante Gotovina, Greg Kehoe and Luka Misectic contend. In their opening statement at the beginning of the trial of the three Croatian generals for crimes against Krajina Serbs, Gotovina’s defense counsel stressed that for General Gotovina, Operation Storm in August 1995 was just ‘a left turn’ from his main task in BH. According to them, his task, in concerted action with the BH Army, was to stop the Bosnian Serb forces, to prevent a massacre similar to Srebrenica from happening in Bihac and to force Karadzic and Mladic to negotiate. On the eve of Operation Storm, Gotovina commanded the attacks on Glamoc and Grahovo, his defense stated, and immediately after the liberation of Krajina, Gotovina returned to Bosnia where he was in charge of operations Maestral and Juzni Potez which led to the Dayton peace talks.

In their response to the opening statement the prosecution presented yesterday, the defense today denied the allegation that Knin was subjected to ‘excessive shelling’, aimed at creating panic among the civilians to make them flee. According to Gotovina’s defense counsels, such instigation was not needed because the authorities in Knin had prepared and rehearsed plans for the evacuation of the population. To demonstrate this, the defense showed a recording of an evacuation drill from July 1995. The defense also mentioned statements by former RSK officials who talk about Martic’s order of 4 August 1995 calling for the evacuation of ‘all inhabitants unable to fight’. Also, the defense showed TV Banja Luka footage of Savo Strbac saying on 7 August 1995 that ‘it has been decided to go into exodus…so that the biological mass of Serbian nation would be preserved for what is to come’.

General Gotovina's defense doesn’t deny that some crimes were committed after Operation Storm, such as burning of houses, looting and killing. But they were not ‘systematic and widespread’ as the prosecution alleged, and the defense intends to prove it through UN reports from that period. According to Gotovina’s defense, the civilian authorities of the Republic of Croatia took over the liberated area already on 6 August 1995 when General Ivan Cermak took over the duty of the ‘military governor’ of Knin. Police stations were established, and so were the courts, while the army ‘continued to advance’. When the conflict ceased on 9 August 1995 in the whole territory of Krajina, the army – and General Gotovina – didn’t have any control over the area any more.

Concluding the defense opening statement, Misetic expressed his belief that the Trial Chamber would acquit general Gotovina on all counts of the indictment after the conclusion of the prosecution case.

The prosecution will call its first witness tomorrow.