The man who commanded the clean-up operation in the Plavno Valley recounts at the Gotovina, Cermak and Markac trial how things he never heard or seen got into his report about the operation. On 25 August 1995 the village of Grubori in the Plavno Valley was burned down and five elderly Serbs were killed

Josip Celic, witness in the Gotovina trialJosip Celic, witness in the Gotovina trial

One of the gravest incidents at the trial of the Croatian generals Gotovina, Cermak and Markac happened on 25 August 1995 in the village of Grubori in the Plavno Valley, Krajina. The village was burned down and five elderly civilians – three men and two women – were killed. The prosecution alleges that members of the Lucko Unit, an outfit of the Croatian special police, were responsible for this crime. The defense contends that the civilians were caught in the cross-fire and were killed in the clashes between the special units and the remnants of the ‘Serb terrorists’.

Josip Celic, the man who commanded the clean-up operation in the Plavno Valley, testified today for the prosecution. He clarified parts of the statements he had given as a suspect to the OTP in 2002 and 2005. Celic then recounted how a description of a firefight with the Serb soldiers got into his report despite the fact that both he and his superiors knew that it never happened. When the operation was over, Celic said, the leaders of four groups of the Lucko unit reported to him; they said they had gone through the Plavno Valley and the village of Grubori without encountering any problems or resistance from the remnants of the Serb forces. He put this information in his report and sent it to Zdravko Janic, chief of the Anti-Terrorist Department, who forwarded it to Mladen Markac, the Croatian special police commander.

The next day, Celic was summoned to the special police headquarters in Gracac. General Markac and his associate Sacic were waiting for him there. They told him they were not happy with his report, and that he would have to draft a new report, where he would say that there had been a firefight. To speed up the process, Sacic dictated a new report to Celic. Although Celic or group leaders in the field had no knowledge of any clashes with Serb fighters, Celic agreed to put it in the new report. He ‘had no reason to doubt’ the information he received from his superiors, Celic explained today. Based on what was said today in court, it can be concluded that the Croatian authorities delivered Celic’s second, altered report to the prosecution, not the original one he had drafted first. Nobody has been able to trace the first report; it is no longer in the police archives.

The forging of reports continued in the next few days. The Lucko Unit Commander Turkalj took the witness and his group commanders to the village of Grubori to see for themselves that the houses had been burned down and civilians killed there. Turkalj then summoned them to Zagreb and ordered them to draft their reports on what had allegedly happened there. The witness signed a typed version of a report Sacic had dictated to him in Gracac. The group leaders drafted their own reports by copying down parts from Celic's report. They all still claimed that they never fought any Serbs nor seen any such clashes. Franjo Drlja, one of the four group leaders whose unit had actually passed through Grubori, was the only one to refuse to produce an amended report.

Zdravko Janic recently testified about this incident at the trial of Gotovina, Cermak and Markac. Janic was coordinating the clean-up operation in Krajina. He first received a report from Josip Celic that the units had passed through the Plavno Valley without any incidents or engagements with the enemy. Years later, after he read in the magazine Feral Tribune that something had happened there, he went to the police archives and found Celic's report. In it, Celic reports that he and his police officers had had to fight the remnants of the Serb troops in the village of Grubori. ‘Several civilians including some elderly women were killed in cross-fire’, Celic stated in the report.

Celic continues his evidence tomorrow when he will be cross-examined by Markac's defense counsel.