In his cross-examination at the trial of Croatian generals Gotovina, Cermak and Markac, the Croatian special police member Stjepan Zinic tried to explain the discrepancies in his various statements about the murder of elderly Serbs and burning down of houses in the village of Grubori

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

In the cross-examination of Stjepan Zinic, member of the Croatian special police, prosecutor Hederaly tried to shed more light on the way in which five elderly Serbs were killed on 25 August 1995 in the village of Grubori in Krajina and who was responsible for that. The incident happened at the time when the Lucko unit was conducting a mop-up operation in the Plavno valley. The aim of the operation was to ensure safe passage for the Liberty Train on 26 August 1995, from Knin to Zagreb. Aboard the train was the Croatian state leadership headed by president Tudjman.

In his statement to the Croatian investigative judge in December 2009, Stjepan Zinic said that at one point during the mop-up operation he heard gunfire from direction of Grubori. When Zinic came near the village, he saw the burned-down houses, and then about 15 members of the special police from a group headed by Frano Drlje came out of the village, the witness recounted. Today, however, the witness couldn’t confirm ‘with one hundred percent certainty’ that it was ‘the village of Grubori or perhaps some other hamlet’. The witness claimed he didn’t see any houses on fire, only smoke. When asked to explain the discrepancy between his evidence today and what he had stated to the Croatian judiciary just a few months earlier, the witness replied, ‘I’ve given it a little thought in the meantime’.

After the operation in the Plavno valley, the Croatian special police were deployed around the village of Ramljane on 26 August 1995 and were ordered to continue with the mop-up operation. The witness said he again saw smoke rising from houses that day; according to him, the houses could very well have been burned down immediately before the arrival of the special police. When the operation was completed in Ramljane, the special forces continued towards Gracac. However, general Mladen Markac intercepted them en route and ordered them after a brief debate to return to Zagreb.

Zinic’s previous statements differed from what he said today. In his statement to the Croatian judiciary and the OTP investigators, Zinic said that Markac was angry and shouted at Frano Drlje, one of the special police commanders, because ‘some houses were burned down and some people killed’. Today the witness maintained that he didn’t hear what Drlje and Markac were discussing. In his reply to Markac’s defense counsel, Zinic said that in his previous statements he said things he ‘most likely heard from other special police members’.

The witness explained to Markac’s defense why immediately after the Grubori incident he reported to commander Josip Celic that there had been no fighting with the remaining Serb forces, only to write down a few days later that there had been clashes. According to Zinic, he thought that other groups would tell Celic about the clashes. The witness also claimed that he wasn’t under any pressure later when he wrote his reports, especially not from the special police commander Mladen Markac. The defense case is that Markac was told that the elderly Serbs had been killed in cross-fire as the special police and the remaining Serb soldiers fought.

The trial for crimes during and after Operation Storm continued in closed session with the evidence of the next witness called by the Trial Chamber.