A Serb from Krajina testifies at the trial of Gotovina, Cermak and Markac with image distortion and under a pseudonym as protective measures, describing the shelling of his village near Knin and the killing, looting and burning of houses after the Croatian forces entered the village

Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac in the courtroomAnte Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac in the courtroom

The first witness to give evidence for the prosecution this week at the trial of Croatian generals Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac is a Krajina Serb who was in his house in a village near Knin on 4 August 1995 when Operation Storm was launched. The name of the village was not disclosed for security reasons. The witness testified under the pseudonym 69 and with image distortion as protective measures. He testified via video link from Zagreb. Because of his age and bad health, the sessions were shorter, with longer breaks than usual.

In two written statements he gave to the OTP investigators the witness described the shelling of the hamlet. His barn was hit in the early morning of 5 August 1995. The village was shelled from the direction of Grahovo, he stated, despite the fact that there were no military targets or SRK personnel there. When the mortar fire stopped, the Croatian soldiers entered the village. One of the soldiers took 81-year-old Dmitar, the witness’s neighbor, behind a house. Then there was a burst of gunfire and a week later the dead bodies of Dmitar and three other Serbs who had been killed were found in the village.

A mother and a son were among those killed. When the Croatian forces launched the attack, the two of them left a refugee column and took shelter in the witness’s house. They didn’t listen to the witness who told them to go with him to a nearby forest to hide immediately before the arrival of Croatian army. While their full identity was not disclosed, the public learned that the mother’s name was Milka and her 40-years old son was Ilija. From his hiding place, the witness contends, he saw Croatian soldiers loot and set the houses in the village on fire. In his words, he saw them stealing things from the house where he lived, and loading them onto his tractor. At first he stated that he was able to recognize some of his former Croat neighbors among the looters but after several additional questions he was not able to provide more details about their identity.

In his cross-examination, Gotovina’s defense counsel asked him if he actually saw his neighbor Dmitar being killed. The witness said he didn’t, repeating that he heard a burst of gunfire thirty to sixty seconds after Dmitar was taken behind the stable. He denied the defense counsel’s allegation that Ilija who was hiding in his house together with his mother had been a soldier. According to the witness, Ilija had a ’bad eye’ and was not even allowed to serve the army.

The witness returned to his village on 11 or 12 August 1995, and soon after sought shelter in the UN base in Knin. From there he was evacuated to Serbia. Today, only seven or eight people live in his village. As he noted, there were times when there were as many people living in ’just one of the twenty village houses’. For security reasons, the public has not learned whether the witness was one of the seven or eight persons who returned home or if he was still a refugee in Serbia.