The second witness of the Trial Chamber was a major in the Croatian military police. Ivan Juric claims that during his visit to the Krajina village of Kistanje immediately after Operation Storm he saw ‘nothing out of the ordinary’. The presiding judge then showed him reports drafted by UN members and the Croatian intelligence service which stated that the village was in flames and filled with the stench of dead bodies. The presiding judge asked the witness to help the Trial Chamber to solve ‘this mystery’

Ivan Juric, witness at the Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac trialIvan Juric, witness at the Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac trial

In August 1995 chief of the Military Police Administration Mate Lausic ordered HV major Ivan Juric to go to Knin to ‘coordinate the work’ of 72nd and 73rd Battalion of the Military Police. The two battalions were in charge of preventing and investigating any crimes the Croatian soldiers committed in the liberated territory. So far at the trial for the crimes during and after Operation Storm, the prosecution has been trying to prove that two of the three accused – Ante Gotovina and Ivan Cermak – did exercise command over the military police. The defense lawyers denied this allegation, shifting the blame on General Lausic. Although Juric’s role in Krajina was often referred to in the course of the trial, none of the parties called him to testify in The Hague, leaving the judges to do it. Juric was a major at the time but has since been promoted to the rank of general. He still works in the Croatian Army.

Describing the system of military reporting in the summer of 1995, Juric said that he put together daily reports filed by his subordinate units. Juric then forwarded the document to the Military Police Administration in Zagreb. Juric nevertheless claimed that the commander of the 72nd Military Police Battalion was in contact on a daily basis with the commander of the Split Military District Ante Gotovina. According to Juric, they regularly informed each other about the events in Krajina, either in writing or orally at briefings.

Presiding judge Orie then asked Juric about the connection between General Cermak and the military police. The witness said that General Cermak, as the commander of the Knin Garrison, could issue orders to military police units, but Cermak ‘didn’t have much control’ over the military police. The tasks Cermak ordered had to be in line with the designated overall mission of the units, the witness clarified.

The judges devoted most of their time today on probing Juric’s knowledge about the crimes in the liberated territory in the first half of August 1995. The witness said that during his stay in Krajina, from 3 to 13 August 1995, he received reports that the HV troops or ‘men in uniform’ had committed crimes, but ‘not major ones’. Juric knew that individuals were stopped at check points and were found to be in possession of goods of unknown origin but, he added, he had never heard of murders of Serb civilians, lootings or burning down of their abandoned houses.

Because the witness said he didn’t receive any reports, and didn’t personally see any soldiers perpetrating crimes, he was asked about his visit to the village of Kistanje on 9 August 1995. Juric claims that he ‘didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary’ apart from four or five buildings he thought had been destroyed in the fighting.

The presiding judge noticed that Juric’s claim was contested by the UN Canadian Battalion (CANBAT), whose troops passed through Kistanje on the same day. The CANBAT soldiers stated in their report that they had to close the car window because of ‘the heat from burning houses and the stench of the dead bodies’. Judge Orie showed the witness the report of SIS operations officer Ante Gugic, who said that ‘chaos reigns in the villages of Bribirske Mostine, Djevrske and Kistanje, all recently liberated, with mass looting and arson’. Gugic claimed that the HV members were ‘disorganized and drinking alcohol’.

The presiding judge commented that such claims ‘don’t conform’ to Juric’s observations asking Juric to help the Trial Chamber to ‘solve this mystery’. The witness stuck to his previous claim, saying, ‘I really didn’t see anything like that’, and asking a rhetorical question, ‘if I had, would I just have stood there doing nothing?’

The prosecution and the defense lawyers will cross-examine General Juric tomorrow.