Prosecution witness Mirko Ognjenovic, an 87-year old ethnic Serb, sustained ‘only’ light injuries to the head when soldiers in camouflage uniforms entered the village of Kakanj near Kistanje in Krajina. Ognjenovic thought he would die; he survived but his neighbors, Uros Ognjenovic and Uros Saric, were murdered

Mirko Ognjenovic, testifying by video-link in the Gotovina trialMirko Ognjenovic, testifying by video-link in the Gotovina trial

Mirko Ognjenovic, an 87 year-old ethnic Serb from Krajina, testified via video link at the trial of Croatian generals Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac; his old age prevented him from coming to The Hague. In the statements he gave to the OTP investigators in 1999 and 2004 Ognjenovic spoke in detail about the murder of his neighbors from the village of Kakanj near Kistanje in August 1995. Ognjenovic recounted how he himself was wounded.

When Operation Storm started, Ognjenovic decided to remain in the village; he had heard Croatian president Tudjman urge over the radio all Serbs ’who are not guilty’ not to leave their homes. Another eight villagers, most of them elderly people, decided to trust Tudjman. The rest, the witness noted, left quickly leaving their possessions behind, because they thought they would return when the shelling stopped. Contrary to the president’s assurances that civilians would be safe, when first Croatian soldiers entered the village they told him, the witness contends, ’it would be better that you left’. They told him not to stray far from his home because ‘all kinds of thinks will happen’.

When the first large unit entered the village, two houses were set on fire. Several days later dozen more houses were burned. According to the witness, the houses were not set on fire by hand; special pistols were used. In the meantime, soldiers occasionally dropped by in the village and looted the abandoned Serb houses. On 10 August 1995 the witness and a few other villagers found the body of Danica Saric, an elderly Serb woman, in a well.

In compliance with the order to stay put in their homes, Mirko Ognjenovic and several other villagers from Kakanj had dinner in one of the house on 18 August 1995 when several soldiers in camouflage uniforms showed up at the door. They were shouting and threatening the Serbs so much that Ognjenovic said, ‘I didn’t think I would survive’. Just 10 seconds after their arrival, Ognjenovic was hit on the head and lost consciousness. When he came to consciousness hours later he learned that his son-in-law Radoslav Ognjenovic was also wounded and his two neighbors – Uros Ognjenovic and Uros Saric – killed.

In response to the questions of Gotovina’s defense counsel Luka Misetic, the witness admitted that it was possible that Danica Saric jumped into the well; there were no signs of violence or gunshot wounds on her body. Saric was also afraid of Croatian soldiers, the witness added, and would often say ‘she would rather kill herself’ than fall in their hands.

The defense counsel did not challenge the claim that the witness was wounded on 18 August 1995 and that his two neighbors were killed; instead he tried to prove that Croatian Army troops were not responsible for the crimes. The defense counsel confronted the witness with statements given by some residents of Kakanj, who told the OTP investigators that two or three persons broke into the house on the evening of 18 August 1995; at least one was in civilian clothes. Ognjenovic admitted that everything happened very fast but still claimed that all of the perpetrators had camouflage uniforms and military caps.

The trial of generals Gotovina, Cermak and Markac continues on Wednesday, 29 October 2008.