Former UN civilian police member said in his statement to the OTP that it seemed to him that the HV members were ’systematically’ burning down houses in the Krajina villages. Now, in his cross-examination he said that with time he ’put two and two together’ and concluded that the soldiers ‘were out of control’ and were not ordered to commit crimes. The courtroom participants exchanged best wishes for Christmas

Normand Boucher, witness in the Gotovina, Cermak and Markac trialNormand Boucher, witness in the Gotovina, Cermak and Markac trial

Former member of the UN civilian police in Knin, Canadian Normand Boucher almost got killed on the first day of Operation Storm; some days later his apartment was partially looted. Boucher recounted things that happened to him until he left Krajina on 22 August 1995 in three statements he gave to the OTP investigators and one he gave last night to Ante Gotovina’s defense. Generals Gotovina, Cermak and Markac are charged with crimes against Serb civilians and their property in August and September 1995.

In his evidence today, Boucher described how he was awaken by the sound of a shell hitting a building near his Knin apartment. As he was heading down to the basement, another shell went through the roof of his building and into his top floor apartment. When he left the shelter, he saw that eight or ten buildings in the area were damaged in the shelling. The witness spent the day hiding in two locations in Knin and was then transferred to the UN base.

Boucher and his colleague from the civilian police went on their first patrol on 7 August 1995. When they visited Knin they saw Croatian soldiers taking clothes, furniture and appliances from houses ’without even attempting to hide’. The witness also visited his apartment; there, he contended, he saw that his TV set and a new leather jacket were missing. The next day, the witness saw a body of a man in uniform with a gunshot wound to the head; this was near Knin. He then saw bodies of a man and a woman lying near a tractor. On his way to a meeting in Sibenik, the witness saw Croatian soldiers carrying jerry cans full of gas out of trucks marked with the Puma insignia. They headed towards some houses. On his way back, the witness saw that most of the houses were ablaze.

Contrary to the statements he gave the OTP investigators – when he said it seemed to him that the soldiers were ’systematically’ burning down the houses, in his cross-examination the witness said that with time he ‘put two and two together’ concluding that those soldiers ‘were out of control’ and were not ordered to commit the crimes. When Gotovina’s defense counsel Kehoe asked him what facts led him to conclude that, Boucher said some houses were spared. Also, Ivan Cermak publicly appealed to the Serbs not to leave Krajina which meant that the government didn’t want to expel them. The witness also noted that the Croatian soldiers protected Orthodox churches and for him that was yet more proof that there was no intention to expel Serb civilians.

When the defense counsel asked him about the shelling of Knin, the witness replied that his apartment and other damaged houses were located near the barracks and the police station. It was clear that the Croatian side was trying to neutralize military targets. As the witness noted, he would have done the same.

Boucher’s cross-examination was ended on an amicable note. After he wished everybody in the courtroom a merry Christmas, the Trial Chamber granted General Gotovina’s defense permission to wish the witness all the best in the New Year on behalf of their client. After that the other two accused rose joining Gotovina with their own best wishes.

The trial of the three Croatian generals continues after the winter recess on 12 January 2009.