Former commander of the RSK Army Mile Mrksic claims he was amazed by the accuracy of the Croatian artillery as it targeted military facilities during Operation Storm. The accurate fire was followed by ‘random artillery attacks’ on civilian targets in towns, he says. Mrksic’s ‘misunderstanding’ with Martic has continued to this day

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

Operation Storm was launched in the early morning of 4 August 1995, with the ‘incredibly accurate’ shelling of military targets in Knin, said Mile Mrksic, the last commander of the Serbian Krajina Army (SVK). He is testifying at the trial of generals Gotovina, Cermak and Markac. He was quite astonished by the fact that the artillery then went on to target random civilian facilities in Knin and all over Krajina. Had they continued what they had started, the Croatian commanders could have cut off and surround many SVK units, but they ‘did not cut them off, but pushed them back and intimidated’, in order to force the civilians to flee.

In an effort to show that the civilians didn’t leave because of the Croatian attack but because the Krajina authorities decided they should leave, defense counsel Luka Misetic produced an order by the RSK president Milan Martic to evacuate the population, issued on 4 August 1995 in the afternoon. Yesterday the witness claimed the people were to seek temporary shelter in Lika; today the defense counsel showed a video clip where former mayor of Knin Drago Kovacevic claims that at a meeting of the Krajina leadership, Mrksic demanded that the people should be evacuated further from Lika, to Bosanski Petrovac and Banja Luka. It was not true, Mrksic replied today, because he ‘would never have changed a decision’ of the military and political top.

According to the defense, the UN documents show that the plan was to move the civilians further away from Lika: the Serb authorities asked the peace-keepers for enough fuel to transport 32,000 refugees to Petrovac and Banja Luka. ‘That’s the mindset of our people: take as much as you can. If they need fuel for 50 kilometers, they’ll take enough for 200,’ Mrksic explained.

As the hearing continued, there was a discussion about whether the ‘exodus’ as Mrksic called the departure of the people from Krajina, included the troops, as the prosecution is claiming, or if the SVK actually tried to fight back the Croatian onslaught, as the defense argues. This was a contentious issue among the Krajina leadership in the aftermath of Operation Storm. In a TV show broadcast by Banja Luka TV in the fall of 1995, Milan Martic accused Mrksic of pulling out the troops from Krajina and leaving it at the mercy of Croats; Martic claimed Mrksic had been acting in accordance with a decision made months before Operation Storm in Belgrade. In an effort to defend himself, Mrksic in a way helped Gotovina's defense, saying Martic’s claims were ‘hindsight’, and explaining that the SVK forces had withdrawn to their back-up positions once they had been forced out of Knin. The only claim former RSK president made in the TV show that Mrksic agreed with was that on the evening of 4 August Martic ordered the shelling of Zagreb, but Mrksic refused to do it.

It was Martic's goal, the witness said, to shift the blame for the loss of Krajina on him. “I bear the guilt to this day and that’s why I’m grateful to Gotovina’s defense for calling me to testify here,’ Mrksic said, denying he was Milosevic’s and Serbia’s man in Krajina. After the fall of Krajina he was denied entry into Serbia for a while, he said. At one point he was placed under house arrest, sent into early retirement and ended up selling produce at a green market.

Mile Mrksic's examination-in-chief was completed today. Next week, he will be cross-examined first by Mladen Markac's defense and then by the prosecution.