Croatian soldiers or civilians who burned down Serbian houses and looted them, ‘weren’t on foot as they did it’; the Croatian authorities could easily have prevented it by posting check points along the roads in Krajina, former UN military observer Tor Munkelien contends

Tor Munkelien, witness in the Gotovina trialTor Munkelien, witness in the Gotovina trial

Croatian authorities could easily have prevented the burning down and looting of Serbian houses after Operation Storm, if they had wanted to do it, Norwegian officer and former UN military observers in Knin Tor Munkelien was categorical today. When the defense teams of Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac objected that it was all happening in a large area that was impossible to fully control, Munkelien replied that it was not necessary to control the territory, but just the roads because those who burned looted houses ‘weren’t on foot as they did that”. They drove civilian or military vehicles.

General Cermak’s defense alleged that establishing check points on Krajina road was the primary responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior and civilian police but the witness disagreed. He noted that civilian authorities didn’t function at the time and that it was the army that had de facto control over the area.

In his statement to the OTP investigators, the witness said that he had never seen any attempts to put out the fires as the houses burned in Knin and surrounding villages and hamlets. Cermak’s defense counsel read several entries from a dairy of the Knin Police Administration pointing to the contrary. Fire brigades, the defense counsel quoted, intervened when fire broke out at the UN warehouse, when a house very close to the Knin Hospital caught fire and in two more cases outside of the town. The witness agreed that the fire brigade was deployed ‘in some cases’ and ‘on certain locations’. But, he remarked, he could match the four examples the defense counsel quoted with ‘four hundred and more cases in which they didn’t even try to put out fires’.

As today’s hearing drew to a close Andries Dreyer, former member of the South African army, began his evidence. In the summer of 1995, during Operation Storm, he was the security coordinator in the UN Knin base. His evidence continues tomorrow.