Former commander of the Lucko Anti-terrorist Unit Josip Turkalj says that in late August 1995 he was present at a discussion where it was said that the murder of elderly Serb civilians in the Krajina village of Grubori should be depicted as random incident in which civilians got killed in cross-fire ‘regardless of whether it’s true or not’

Josip Turkalj, svjedok na suđenju Gotovini, Čermaku i MarkačuJosip Turkalj, svjedok na suđenju Gotovini, Čermaku i Markaču

During and after Operation Storm, prosecution witness Josipi Turkalj was the commander of the Lucko Anti-terrorist Unit of the Croatian special police, yet he didn’t participate in the clean-up operation that the unit carried out on 25 August 2008 in the Plavno valley. This was when five Serb civilians were killed and a number of houses were set on fire in the village of Grubori, in one of the gravest incidents listed in the indictment against generals Gotovina, Cermak and Markac. Turkalj was called to clarify his role in the controversial events that followed the operation, already discussed at the trial.

The first report was drafted by Josip Celic, who commanded the clean-up operation in the Plavno Valley, on 25 August 1995. The report indicated that the special units passed through the village of Grubori and the Plavno Valley without encountering any problems and resistance from the remaining Serb forces. When the report reached Mladen Markac, the special police commander, Celic was called to report immediately to the Gracac headquarters. Markac and his deputy Zeljko Sacic then told him that they were not happy with his report and demanded that he draft a new one where he would talk about the fighting which resulted in civilian victims. To speed up the process, the new report was dictated to him by Sacic.

In an interview with the ICTY investigators in 2005, Turkalj said that he had heard Sacic tell Cermak that the Grubori incident should be depicted as a chance incident in which civilians were killed in cross-fire ‘regardless of whether it’s true or not’. According to Turkalj’s evidence, this was said on 31 August 1995 in Cermak’s office in Knin, immediately after the visit of the army and police representatives to Grubori. Celic told him then that ‘he doesn’t know what happened’ during the Plavno operation, Turkalj claims.

A day after the visit to Grubori, Turkalj summoned all subordinate commanders of the Lucko Unit to come to Zagreb, on Markac’s orders. They were then ordered to draft new reports on the operation conducted in the Plavno Valley. In that document, Josip Celic stated that there had been fighting but Turkalj claims that he didn’t find it peculiar that only a day earlier Celic told him he knew nothing about the incident. In his evidence, Celic stated that in Zagreb he only signed a typed version of the report Sacic had dictated to him a few days before.

In an effort to prove that the cover-up of the murders in Grubori continued over the years that followed, the prosecutor showed an order General Markac issued in 1999, calling for the decommissioning and deletion from the military records of some of the weapons used in the Plavno Valley clean-up despite the fact that an investigation was still underway at the time and the ballistics analysis was not yet completed. In the course of his evidence Turkalj tried to protect his former commander General Markac, saying that there was nothing unusual about that and that it was just a ‘routine thing’.