The defense’s appeal against the Trial Chamber’s decision to reopen the prosecution’s case was dismissed. The evidence of additional witnesses called by the prosecution on Cermak’s role in the effort to cover-up the murder of five elderly Serbs in the Krajina village of Grubori remains in evidence

The Appeals Chamber with Judge Mehmet Guney presiding, rejected the appeal filed by the defense teams of generals Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac for the reversal of the Trial Chamber’s decision to permit the prosecution to reopen its case and present new facts on the murder of five elderly Serbs in the village of Grubori in late August 1995. The crime is listed in the indictment charging generals Gotovina, Cermak and Markac with their role in the joint criminal enterprise aimed at expelling Serbs from Krajina in Operation Storm and after it.

The defense didn’t ask for the trial to be suspended pending the Appeals Chamber’s decision. The three ‘additional’ witnesses of the prosecution and two witnesses called by Cermak’s defense were examined in the meantime.

The defense lawyers of the Croatian generals opposed the calling of additional evidence, arguing that it would unnecessarily prolong the trial. The prosecution could have presented the evidence in the ‘regular’ course of its case, the defense contended. The Appeals Chamber however rejected this argument, noting that the prosecution obtained new information about the crime in the village of Grubori only after the results of the Croatian investigation of the crime were divulged.

Witness Jozo Bilobrk was the star of the prosecution’s additional case. Bilobrk is a police officer from Split who took part in the clean-up operation in the liberated area – including the village of Grubori – after Operation Storm. According to the official note drafted by the Croatian investigative bodies in November 2009, Bilobrk said that Ivan Cermak suggested that rifles be placed near the bodies of elderly Serbs to make it look as if they got killed in an armed conflict. Cermak made that suggestion before he went to the village of Grubori on 27 August 1995.

In his subsequent statements and in his evidence before the Tribunal, Bilobrk denied those claims. After Bilobrk, the prosecution called Croatian policemen Zeljko Mikulic and Antonio Gerovac. Mikulic and Gerovac, authors of the controversial note, said that during the investigation Bilobrk identified Cermak as the person who issued the order to place arms next to the dead bodies in the village of Grubori. According to the official note, Bilobrk ‘angrily’ dismissed Cermak’s ‘suggestion’ and the bodies of civilians remained as they were recovered – without arms.

In their response to the prosecution’s additional case, Cermak’s defense called two witnesses – police officer Ivica Vrticevic and former member of the Civilian Defense Mile Serdarevic. In the summer of 1995, Vrticevic and Serdarevic were involved in the clean-up operation together with Bilobrk. Both Vrticevic and Serdarevic maintained that they never heard either Cermak or anybody else demand that rifles be placed next to the dead bodies in the village of Grubori.

The trial of the Croatian generals will end after the prosecution and the defense deliver their closing arguments from 25 to 27 August 2010.