Ante Gotovina’s defense has called four former members of the Sibenik Brigade to testify. The witnesses maintain that Vladimir Gojanovic was not a member of that unit during Operation Storm. In his evidence for the prosecution last year, Gojanovic claimed that as a HV soldier he had witnessed numerous war crimes perpetrated by his fellow soldiers in August 1995.

Ante Gotovina in the courtroomAnte Gotovina in the courtroom

Former members of the 113th Sibenik Brigade of the HV, Josko Babacic, Radoslav Juricev Sudac, Davor Zafranovic and Dragan Rak gave evidence today in the defense of their former commander, General Ante Gotovina. Together with Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac, Gotovina is charged with crimes against Serbs in the summer of 1995. Four former soldiers testified from Zagreb via video link speaking about their participation in Operation Storm in August 1995. They were part of the Split Military District forces under Gotovina’s command.

In the statements they gave to the defense in May 2008, all four claimed that prosecution witness Vladimir Gojanovic had not taken part in the military-police operation Storm, or at least not as a member of the Sibenik Brigade as Gojanovic had testified. During the prosecution case, Gojanovic testified that his fellow fighters had been involved in crimes such as burning and looting of abandoned Serb houses, abuse of remaining civilians and murder of one of the two prisoners of war that had surrendered to his brigade. Nobody was sanctioned for those crimes, Gojanovic claimed.

The defense counsel today tendered into evidence statements by the four witnesses, deciding not to read their summaries into the record as is the usual practice and not to ask any question about the statements. The prosecution then proceeded to cross-examine the witnesses, trying to contest the allegations that Gojanovic didn’t participate in Operation Storm as a member of the Sibenik Brigade. According to the prosecution, the four witnesses didn’t know Gojanovic well and were not able to say for sure whether they had seen him or not during the operation. Babacic replied that he had known Gojanovic since his childhood. The other three witnesses got to know Gojanovic as the HV member in the 90’s. All four witnesses confirmed that they didn’t have contacts with Gojanovic and had not seen him for years before Operation Storm.

Because the witnesses denied Gojanovic’s claims about crimes committed by the members of the Sibenik Brigade, the prosecution showed a document drafted on 12 August 1995, where the unit commander asks subordinate officers to deal with the those who looted and burned Serb houses. The witnesses said they knew nothing about it. The most original explanation was proffered by Radoslav Juricev Sudac. He claims the houses were not burned by the army ‘but some third or fourth party’, adding that fires could have been caused by flares that were fired often during combat.

Replying to the questions by the presiding judge, Juricev, Zafranovic and Rak said that they had given statements to Gotovina’s defense because they had been outraged by Gojanovic’s ‘false evidence’. They insulted Gojanovic roundly. Judge Orie however noted that the witness statements were from the period between 8 and 12 May 2008; Gojanovic began his evidence three days later, on 15 May 2008. None of the witnesses could explain this timeline. Dragan Rak, as the presiding judge noted, repeatedly avoided answering the question.