In an effort to unravel the controversy surrounding the police reports on the incident in which elderly Serbs were killed in the village of Grubori in Krajina in late August 1995, the judges in the Operation Storm case called Stjepan Zinic to testify in The Hague. Zinic commanded one of the Croatian special units that took part in the ‘mop-up operation’ in the Plavno Valley

Stjepan Zinic, witness at the Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac trialStjepan Zinic, witness at the Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac trial

A number of former special police members testified either as prosecution or defense witnesses at the trial of Croatian generals Gotovina, Cermak and Markac about the mop-up operation in the Plavno Valley in late August 1995. Five elderly Serbs were killed in the village of Grubori at the time. The Trial Chamber with Judge Orie presiding obviously feels that the incident has not been completely clarified and have called another participant of the mop-up operation to shed more light on it. Zinic commanded one of the groups of the Lucko special police unit.

The question remains whether Zinic’s evidence will clear any issues up. What Zinic said today differed to a certain extent from what he stated earlier to the OTP investigators and what he said last year to a Croatian investigative judge. The main contradiction – as in the testimony of previous witnesses – pertains to the controversial issue: did the Croatian special forces and the remaining Serb troops clash in the village of Grubori on 25 August 1995 and did the elderly Serbs die in the cross-fire, as the defense contends.

Like all other special police members in the mop-up operation of the Plavno Valley, Zinic first reported to his superior that there had been no clashes with ‘the Chetniks’. Zinic then ‘corrected’ himself, stating in his later reports that there had indeed been fighting there. Today Zinic clarified that his group didn’t fight with anyone. However, during the mop-up operation, he had heard gunfire from the direction of Grubori. The smoke Zinic saw could have come from burning buildings. Zinic contends that he later heard there had been some fighting. He mentioned it in the report he wrote in Zagreb in early September 1995, at the request of Josip Turkalj, the Lucko unit commander.

Zinic was adamant that he was not pressured by anyone when he wrote his report. This is contradicted by the man who commanded the mop-up operation in the Plavno Valley, Josip Celic. He stated that the story about the purported fighting was included into police reports only after the special police commander Mladen Markac and his deputy Zeljko Sacic intervened. Celic was called to give evidence by the prosecution in September 2008. Sacic has recently been indicted by the Croatian authorities for his part in the effort to cover up the crime in Grubori.

Celic had testified that the special police commanders had not been happy with his report which contained no mention of the fighting. Celic was then summoned to the HQ in Gracac where Sacic dictated a new report to Celic. Celic claimed that the fabrication of the report continued in Turkalj’s office in Zagreb, where Celic was given a prepared document to sign: the report now spoke about a clash with ‘the Chetniks’. Parts of that document were then copy-pasted into reports signed by Zinic and other group commanders. Zinic today denied those claims, describing the procedure: all of them came to Turkalj’s office where they wrote their reports by hand. The reports were given to a secretary who typed them up and then they signed the typewritten texts. Those texts were given to Turkalj and he forwarded them to Sacic.

Stjepan Zinic continues his evidence tomorrow.