Describing the situation before Operation Storm, Mile Mrksic has claimed that the SVK, under his command at that time, was independent of the Bosnian Serb army and Serbia. Mrksic did admit that Milosevic had ‘overall authority’ over them. According to Mrksic, there was a plan for the evacuation of the people, but it envisaged only a temporary move into the woods, not to BH or Serbia

Mile Mrkšić, svjedok odbrane Ante GotovineMile Mrkšić, svjedok odbrane Ante Gotovine

Former commander of the Serbian Krajina Army (SVK) Mile Mrksic testified today at the trial of three Croatian generals charged with crimes during Operation Storm. On the second day of Mrksic's examination-in chief, Ante Gotovina’s defense counsel focused on the time before Operation Storm, in an effort to prove two defense arguments: first, that with the support from Republika Srpska and Serbia, SVK was a respectable force that had to be attacked with every available asset; second, that Krajina authorities had put together a plan for the evacuation of the Serb civilians because they were expecting an attack.

To corroborate this, the defense counsel showed two key documents, the war diary of the then commander of the VRS Ratko Mladic and the report on Operation Storm sent by Mrksic on 26 August 1995 to the VJ commander, Momcilo Perisic. Mrksic tried a few times to contest authenticity of the two documents, calling Mladic’s entries ‘hindsight’. As for his report, it was actually drafted by his associates, he claimed.

In an effort to prove there was coordination between the Serb armies in the region, the defense counsel showed an entry from Mladic’s diary mentioning a meeting in Belgrade in late June 1995. According to the entry, it was clear that the Bihac pocket was attacked by the joint forces of Serbia, Krajina and Republika Srpska. Mrksic however claims that his army’s participation was restricted to small special units. For them, it was more of a ‘drill’, than a real operation. According to Mrksic, the objective of the attack was not Bihac but a number of villages in the Cazin Krajina that wanted to join Fikret Abdic.

When Mrksic was shown his own report of 26 August 1995, where he says that the SVK was part of the VJ and that it should be more supported with more determination, Mrksic said that those conclusions were not his because he ‘never reported’ to the chief of the VJ General Staff Momcilo Perisic. The VJ, the SVK and the VRS, Mrksic explained, were ‘three independent systems’, but he agreed that Slobodan Milosevic ‘had overall authority’ over the Krajina Serb leadership. Describing his ‘military entity’, Mrksic said he needed only a few more months to consolidate the army. After that, he would have been able to inflict ‘unbearable losses’ to the Croatian Army if it had launched an attack, and there would have to be an effort to find a peaceful solution. In early August 1995, Mrksic explained, he did not have the capabilities to do it.

When the Croatian attack began, so did the ‘evacuation of the people’, but inside the RSK territory. Mrksic didn’t contest the fact that on the first day of Operation Storm the RSK leadership ordered the temporary evacuation of the people into the woods. ‘The gentlemen in the dock’, as Mrksic called the accused generals Gotovina, Cermak and Markac, should be grateful for that. In Mrksic’s opinion, what happened to the elderly who couldn’t flee showed what would have happened to any large groups of unprotected civilians after the arrival of ‘the berserk forces’. The Croatian generals would be responsible for that, Mrksic noted, although they would not have been able to the prevent crimes.

When Knin TV footage from July 1995 with images of the evacuation drills was shown to Mrksic, he said it definitely was not ‘drilling to flee in Operation Storm’. It was all about making plans for temporary accommodation for the people in nearby forests from where they would return to their homes once the danger was over.

Mrksic's examination-in chief will be completed tomorrow. Next week Mrksic will be cross-examined by Mladen Markac’s defense and the prosecution.