A member of the Croatian special police who took part in an action when five elderly Serbs were killed in August 1995 was called by the Trial Chamber to give evidence about the incident. The witness recounted what he knew about the incident and identified possible perpetrators of the crime in the village of Grubori, which is listed in the indictment against generals Gotovina, Cermak and Markac

At the trial of generals Gotovina, Cermak and Markac for crimes during and after Operation Storm, several witnesses have already described how five elderly Serbs were killed in the village of Grubori on 25 August 1995. Today the Trial Chamber heard what may very well be the most detailed evidence on the incident and the names of possible perpetrators were mentioned in the courtroom for the first time. Branko Balunovic, a member of the special police and the leader of one of the four Lucko anti-terrorist units participating in the mop-up operation in the Plavno Valley in late August 1995, was called to testify by the Trial Chamber with judge Orie presiding.

In his replies to the presiding judge, Balunovic today said that during the action he heard sporadic gunfire from the village of Grubori; a group headed by Frano Drlje was passing through the village at the time. Balunovic claims that he didn’t know at the time that several elderly Serbs were killed and many houses were set on fire. Balunovic’s report to Celic was similar to those the commander received from other group leaders, and Celic put it in his report that there had been no major incidents in the Plavno Valley. However, the special police top brass didn’t like it and Celic was summoned to the headquarters in Gracac the next day, 26 August 1995. Balunovic came along with Celic.

Balunovic claims he was waiting in the corridor the whole time and did not witness what went on in the headquarters, but he says Celic told him that ‘on the instructions of Mr. Sacic’ he had drafted a new report on the mop-up operation. In the new report, Celic said that the special police had clashed with the remaining Serb soldiers in the village of Grubori; the elderly Serbs could therefore have been killed in the cross-fire. On 27 August 1995, Celic and Balunovic went to Grubori together with Sacic to verify if the incident had really happened. The witness says he saw disturbing scenes that are still fresh in his memory. As they entered the village, they saw pig and cow carcasses, and then a villager told them, ‘it’s a pity the people got killed, not the cattle’, and took them to a place where the bodies of elderly Serbs were.

When they returned to Zagreb, commander Celic and the group leaders, including Balunovic, were called to the Lucko unit headquarters to submit their written report on the operations in the Plavno Valley. They had drafted their reports ‘based on the information Celic has received from Sacic’ and not based on what they had seen and experienced in the field, the witness said. In order to make the story about the fight with the remaining Serb forces more convincing, the report spoke about the capture of two enemy soldiers. Although Balunovic admitted all four special police groups gathered in the same place, where he didn’t see any prisoners, he said today he never questioned Sacic’s words.

Asked if he later learned what exactly happened in the village of Grubori, the witness said that ‘sometime in 2003’ Marjan Sosa, another member of the special police, told him that Frano Drlje and Igor Beneta ‘killed somebody in Grubori’. Sosa also told the witness that Drlje took him to a forest near the Lucko Unit base and threatened ‘he would kill and bury him there if he said what he knew about the murder of the elderly Serbs’.

As today’s hearing drew to a close, the prosecution began cross-examining the witness.