On the last day of his testimony, former Serbian Krajina Army commander Mile Mrksic again answered questions by Ante Gotovina’s defense counsel, who challenged the prosecution case that Serbs had been left a corridor to flee to BH and Serbia during Operation Storm; the purpose was to ethnically cleanse Krajina. Misetic quoted ancient Roman sources which state that it is better to leave ‘a golden bridge’ for the enemy to withdraw than to fight

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

Gotovina’s defense counsel Luka Misetic re-examined former Serbian Krajina Army (SVK) commander Mile Mrksic today. For a moment, he left the time relevant for the indictment against three Croatian generals for crimes in Operation Storm and went far back into the past. He quoted Roman philosopher Flavius Vegetius Renatus, in an effort to challenge the prosecution argument that during Operation Storm the Croatian Army deliberately left a corridor leading from Dalmatia to the town of Serb in Lika and further to the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, so that the civilians could leave Krajina, thereby implementing the plan for the permanent removal of Serbs from that part of Croatia.

In his work, On Military Matters, the Roman philosopher criticizes the military leaders who want to ‘surround and cut down the enemy’. The flight of the enemy soldiers should not be prevented, but facilitated. If this is done, the enemy will focus on how to flee; if the enemy soldiers are surrounded, they will fight the attacker in desperation, inflicting great casualties, the Roman philosopher says, recommending that a ‘golden bridge’ be left for the enemy to flee. The defense counsel thus implied that the Krajina ‘golden bridge’ was meant for the soldiers, not civilians.

There is no need to go that far into the past to prove a military truth that is general knowledge, Mrksic said, adding that he himself, when he commanded the attack on Vukovar in the fall of 1991, left a route to Vinkovci open to allow Croatian fighters to pull out. It is the goal of every commander, he said, not to encircle the enemy, because it puts the enemy soldiers in a situation where they ‘defend themselves instinctively and try to sell their lives as dearly as they can’. The debate was cut short by presiding judge Orie, who remarked that military philosophy was not always in step with military history. The Chamber did not find examples that don’t have anything to do with Operation Storm useful at all.

The defense counsel devoted most of his re-examination today to challenge Mrksic’s claims from the examination-in-chief that some facilities targeted by the Croatian artillery – such as the Knin railway station and TVIK factory – did not have any military significance. Misetic showed him SVK and ECMM documents indicating that on 4 August 1995 trains were observed in Knin and that in the spring of that year TVIK factory manufactured modified air bombs. The witness stood by his earlier claims, saying he had never heard of anyone travelling by train from Knin throughout his stay in Krajina. He allowed that TVIK factory may have ‘manufactured a bolt or two’ used for a military purpose.

This ended Mile Mrksic’s five-day testimony. Before leaving the courtroom, Mrksic thanked the judges for their ‘patience’, the prosecutor for ‘being concise and clear’, and defense counsel Misetic for ‘his persistence in the efforts to bring [Mrksic] to the stand’, allowing him to ‘unburden’ his soul. Gotovina’s defense then called its next witness, former chief of the Crime-fighting Service in the 72nd Military Police Battalion, Boris Milas, whose evidence will continue tomorrow.