Former Croatian MUP coordinator for the Knin District, Stjepan Buhin today repudiated parts of the previous statements he gave to the OTP investigators where he accused HV personnel of looting Serb houses after Operation Storm. In his testimony today he said this was ‘a nasty statement’ he would not dare repeat today

Stjepan Buhin, witness in the Gotovina trialStjepan Buhin, witness in the Gotovina trial

At the beginning of the hearing today in the trial of Croatian generals Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac, on charges of crimes during and after Operation Storm, the court went into closed session. The prosecutor indicated that the witness wanted to state whether he still had concerns about his safety and whether he wanted to testify with full protective measures. When the cameras were switched on again, the witness, Stjepan Buhin, strolled into the courtroom, obviously quite unconcerned about any threats to his safety. Buhin is a former Croatian MUP coordinator for the Knin District.

Buhin, like some other prosecution witnesses before him, today repudiated the ‘incriminating’ parts of the statement he had given to the OTP investigators. In his 2002 statement, he said that in August 1995 the Croatian Army troops ‘transported the looted goods in military trucks’. When the civilian police checked them, they would in most cases produce forged documents indicating the goods were to be used for military purposes. Today Buhin said this was ‘a nasty statement’; he ‘would not dare to say it again’. ‘I probably didn’t mean it, although I did say it’, the witness said, noting that it was his belief today that most of the goods he had considered to be looted at the time was in fact used for military purposes.

As he continued to explain why he now saw the events in Krajina after Operation Storm differently that he had before, Buhin said the looters wore military uniforms but were not soldiers. Those were ‘civilians prone to crime’ who used the uniforms to their criminal ends and ‘looted property of their own accord’.

Despite his efforts to clear the army of any blame for the crimes in Krajina, the witness also stressed that the civilian police could do nothing to punish any crimes committed by the troops. HV soldiers were ‘above the police’ at that time, he said, and the situation was dangerous and tense: ‘people would draw their guns over minor matters’. That is why he and other Croatian MUP officials advised the police officers not to get into any conflicts with the soldiers and to leave the searches and ID checks of people in camouflage uniforms to the military police.

Stjepan Buhin's evidence will continue tomorrow.