In an attempt to show that Ivan Cermak was aware of the widespread looting of abandoned houses and apartments in Knin, Hussein Al-Alfi, former UN mission representative, has said that the Croatian general told him to remove the valuables from his apartment to the UN base; otherwise they might be stolen. The witness and the accused shared a ’virtual handshake" in the courtroom

Hussein Al-Alfi, witness in the Gotovina, Cermak and Markac trialHussein Al-Alfi, witness in the Gotovina, Cermak and Markac trial

Despite the efforts of defense counsel Kay to minimize the role of Ivan Cermak in the Knin area after Operation Storm, former coordinator of the UN mission in Sector South, Hussein Al-Alfi remained firm in his cross-examination today: the accused general was ’number one’ in the area under military rule. The witness knew Cermak as ‘the military governor’ and had never heard anyone call Cermak ‘the Knin Garrison commander’, his official title. Croatian generals Ivan Cermak, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac are charged with crimes against Serb civilians and their property during and after Operation Storm in August 1995.

The defense counsel asked the witness if he knew that General Cermak was sent to Knin to restart the ’companies, shops and services’. Al-Alfi asked a counter-question: how could the companies start working if the military situation was not stabilized. He ’never had any doubt’ about Cermak’s military powers, the witness added, admitting nevertheless that it remained questionable how successfully he could exercise them in practice.

Reports from the meetings between high-ranking UN mission representatives and Croatian representatives shown in court today by the defense indicate that Al-Alfi and Sector South commander Alain Forand informed General Cermak on 18 August 1995 for the first time about the crimes being committed in Krajina. When they expressed their concern about ‘the continued burning of the Serb houses’, the ’military governor’ announced there would be ‘tough action’ against perpetrators. The witness claims that the Croatian general received reports about crimes in Sector South even before that, noting however that in previous meetings the crimes might not have been the main item on the agenda and were consequently not included in the report.

According to Al-Alfi, Cermak was aware of the widespread crimes; he advised Al-Alfi to remove the valuables from his Knin apartment to the UN base. They could otherwise be stolen, he said.

Al-Alfi thus completed his evidence before the Tribunal. As his testimony drew to a close Al-Alfi asked the judges for permission to shake hands with the accused general with whom he had had intensive contacts after Operation Storm. The presiding judge made it clear to him that this was not customary at the Tribunal. However, he added, the presiding judge was sure General Cermak got the message: the smile on Cermak’s face clearly confirmed it. ’We could call it a virtual handshake then’, Judge Orie concluded.