Additional witnesses called by Ivan Cermak’s defense described what happened during the mop-up operation in the Krajina villages of Strmica and Grubori on 27 August 1995, in response to the testimony of additional witnesses called last week by the prosecution. It is difficult to gauge the impact because the transcripts of the prosecution witnesses’ testimony has yet to be made public, despite the decision of the Trial Chamber of 7 June rescinding ‘temporary protective measures’

Ivica Vrticevic, witness at the Gotovina, Cermak and Markac trialIvica Vrticevic, witness at the Gotovina, Cermak and Markac trial

At the trial of Croatian generals Gotovina, Cermak and Markac, the court today heard testimony of last two witnesses, former crime scene technician in the Split-Dalmatia police administration Ivica Vrticevic, and former civil defense member Mile Serdarevic. In the summer of 1995, Vrticevic and Serdarevic were part of a mop-up team in charge of removing the human and animal bodies found in the liberated area.

The defense of the former Knin Garrison commander Ivan Cermak called Vrticevic and Serdarevic, having been granted permission to call new evidence in response to the additional witnesses called by the prosecution last week. However, as the three ‘additional’ prosecution witnesses testified in closed session and their evidence remained under seal, in contravention of the Trial Chamber’s decision, the public is in the dark as to what the response was in response of.

At the moment, only the names of the three prosecution witnesses heard last week have been made public. The witnesses are Jozo Bilobrk, Zeljko Mikulic and Antonijo Gerovac. From the evidence today, it transpired that Bilobrk was a crime scene technician who took part in the mop up operation in the Knin area. In their statements to the defense, admitted into evidence today, Vrticevic and Serdarevic described what went on in Knin and its surroundings on 27 August 1995.

[IMAGE]4802[/IMAGE]That morning, Vrticevic and Serdarevic received information that a body had been found in the Plavno Valley and five bodies in the village of Grubori. Bilobrk heard the information at the police station and communicated it to the mop-up team that would meet in a nearby bar. The team first headed towards Strmica where they picked up a semi-decomposed body and moved it to the Knin cemetery, where the bodies of civilians and soldiers, both identified and unidentified, recovered in the liberated area after Operation Storm were buried.

The mop-up team headed towards the village of Grubori. As alleged in the indictment against the Croatian generals, two days earlier five elderly Serbs were killed there. According to the testimony heard today, the bodies were first photographed and examined by crime scene technicians Bilobrk and Vrticevic. After that, the civil defense team, including Serdarevic, tagged the bodies and put them in plastic bags. The bodies were taken to the Knin cemetery in a truck.

Both Vrticevic and Serdarevic claim they saw general Cermak ‘near the bridge in the village of Plavno’, but neither could remember Cermak entered the village of Grubori. Defense counsel Kay asked both Vrticevic and Serdarevic if they heard that day ‘anybody suggest that weapons should be left near the bodies the civilians in the village of Grubori to make it appear as if there had been fighting in the village’. Vrticevic and Serdarevic denied it. Prosecutor Hederaly put it to Vrticevic that he couldn’t have heard any such suggestions because he didn’t hear his colleague Bilobrk talk to other people in front of the police station and ‘near the bridge’ in the village of Plavno. Vrticevic admitted this was true, adding that in the former situation he was in a bar and in the latter, he stood at some distance from the bridge ‘smoking’ with some civil defense personnel. Once the transcript of the three witnesses, Bilobrk, Mikulic and Gerovac, are made public it will become clear whether the defense is relying on this evidence to challenge their claims.

There will be an administrative hearing at the trial of the Croatian generals tomorrow.