According to defense witness Karolj Dondo, General Cermak did have in his hands a report about the murder of five elderly Serbs in the village of Grubori in late August 1995. Nevertheless, in front of TV cameras Cermak said that the victims were ‘three Chetniks and two civilians’ killed in the cross-fire. The witness explained that Cermak ‘may have seen’ the report the special police filed about the same incident and may have ‘consequently mixed up the information’

Karolj Dondo, svjedok odbrane Ivana ČermakaKarolj Dondo, svjedok odbrane Ivana Čermaka

Last week, the court heard testimony of the former head of the Office for Cooperation of the HV and the UN Mission in Knin, Ivica Lukovic. Today, Cermak’s defense called another witness who worked in the Office, Karolj Dondo. In the introduction to his testimony, and in the statements he gave the OTP investigators and the defense, Dondo gave a broad picture of his activities in Knin after Operation Storm and the contacts he had with Cermak in his capacity as a liaison officer. The focus of his evidence today was on the incident in Grubori. According to the indictment against generals Gotovina, Cermak and Markac, five elderly Serbs were killed in that village on 25 August 1995, and several houses were set on fire.

Cermak’s defense counsel Kay asked just some general questions. Mladen Markac’s defense followed with the questions about the Grubori incident. Describing the first impressions he got in the village the day after the incident, the witness said he had seen several elderly people who had been killed. One of them had been bed-ridden and had been shot upstairs in his home, still wearing his pajamas. The body of an elderly Serb woman was burned to ‘a heap of cinders’. Dondo also saw several burned houses and dead livestock in Grubori.

The defense argues that there was a clash between the Croatian special forces and the remnants of Serb fighters in Grubori; the civilians were killed in the cross-fire and their houses were burned in the fighting. The witness agreed with the argument in part, saying that ‘one might say’ there had been contact with the enemy in Grubori, adding that he ‘couldn’t comprehend why civilians and bed-ridden elderly people were killed’. When defense counsel Mikulicic asked him if it was his impression that there was an effort to cover up the incident, Dondo denied it.

In the cross-examination, prosecutor Mahindaratne tried to show that there was an attempt to cover up the incident, and that the Knin Garrison commander Ivan Cermak took part in it. She first showed a recording of Cermak’s interview with the UN TV in the morning of 26 August 1995, where he says nothing about any civilian victims, but about ‘a terrorist’ and a HV soldier as the only casualties. The interview was taped when Cermak didn’t have the relevant information, Dondo explained, adding that it was only in the evening of that day that he handed Cermak a report about what he had seen in the field: civilian victims, burned houses and dead cattle.

The prosecutor then showed a video clip of another interview with the accused general, on 27 August 1995, broadcast by the Croatian TV and filmed on the site, in Grubori. Although Dondo said he had seen Cermak read his report about the elderly victims en route to Grubori, Cermak said in front of the TV cameras that the victims were ‘three Chetniks and only two civilians’. When he was asked why General Cermak said things that were contrary to what was in the report he had read before speaking to the press, Dondo said ‘it is hard to find an explanation’, adding that Cermak ‘may have seen’ a report the special police filed about the same incident. He may have ‘consequently mixed up the information’, the witness said.

Karolj Dondo’s testimony will be completed tomorrow.