Protected witness 136 testifying at the trial of Gotovina, Cermak and Markac claims that for her, the encounters with Croatian soldiers after Operation Storm were much worse than the encounters with the police. She worked as an interpreter for UN observers; their teams were stopped at army checkpoints and prevented from entering villages so that they would not see the evidence of crimes against Serb civilians

Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac in the courtroomAnte Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac in the courtroom

The cross-examination of protected witness 136, who worked as an interpreter in the UN base in Knin in the summer of 1995, continued today. The defense counsel of the police general Mladen Markac noted that she had allegedly been concerned only with the Serb victims, implying that she was biased, because she herself is a Serb. The witness replied that as a UN staff member she treated all the people in Krajina equally, regardless of their ethnicity. This can be seen from her work before Operation Storm, she said, when she visited the few remaining Croats, most of them elderly people, in Knin and the surrounding villages with the UN patrols, in order to help them if they were physically threatened.

At the beginning of the hearing today, Ante Gotovina’s defense counsel completed his cross-examination. The witness described how she had seen bodies of Serb civilians on several occasions immediately after Operation Storm when she visited the villages around Knin with the UN military observers and UN civilian police. The most shocking scene she saw was in the village of Mokro Polje, she said. This is where she saw the body of an elderly Serb woman, Sava Babic, semi-decomposed on her family estate with a bullet wound to her head. Her brain was all over the car seat.

Gotovina's defense counsel didn't contest the fact that a Croat soldier had killed Sava Babic. His name is Mario Djukic, and he was in the 134th Home Guard Regiment. A criminal report was filed against him. As he didn't offer any more details about the case and couldn’t say if the accused soldier was convicted or not, the Trial Chamber asked the defense to provide additional evidence on this incident. The defense counsel was trying to prove that the witness didn't have credible information about the majority of other killings of Serb civilians she mentions in the statement she gave the OTP. She confirmed this to a certain extent, saying that in some situations she personally had not seen the corpses and was merely recounting what the UN personnel had told her. According to her, all this information could easily be verified with the UN personnel who were there and who were doubtlessly willing to come to The Hague to testify on the issue.

In response to the questions of presiding judge Orie, the witness said that Croat soldiers were hostile to the UN patrols that were visiting villages to offer help to the remaining Serb civilians, prevent crimes and record the crimes that had already been committed. 'My encounters with the Croatian Army were much worse that those I had with the police', the witness stated, noting that in some situations 'she barely got out alive' when she went to villages where there were troops. She clarified that she had seen large groups of soldiers in almost every village she went to. She would catch them 'red handed', she said, looting Serb houses. In her words, the army often didn't allow the UN patrols to enter Serb villages. This happened, she guessed, when they were removing the bodies of the dead civilians.

The evidence of witness 136 was completed today and there will be a three-week recess at the trial of Croatian generals charged with crimes in Operation Storm and in its aftermath in 1995. As today's hearing drew to a close, the Trial Chamber announced its decision to reject Ivan Cermak's motion for provisional release during that time. The written decision will be made public shortly.