Mile Djuric, prosecution witness testifying at the trial of generals Gotovina, Cermak and Markac, says he saw his father burned to death when he was thrown into a burning family workshop on 6 August 1995. The defense claimed that on that day the witness was not in his village

Mile Djuric, witness at the Gotovina, Cermak and Markac trialMile Djuric, witness at the Gotovina, Cermak and Markac trial

When Operation Storm was launched on 4 August 1995, Mile Djuric was in his vacation house on a hill near his birthplace, the village of Djurici, close to Plavno. In the two statements he gave to the OTP in 2004 and 2007 and in his evidence today at the trial of generals Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac, Djuric described his visit to the village of Djurici on 6 August 1995 when he saw his father burned alive on their family estate.

On that day, the witness recounted, he arrived in the village amidst the shelling. Around 4 p.m. he had lunch with his parents, sister and grandmother. After that, he went to a local store. On his way back he saw his house on fire so he hurried home, concerned about his family. When he saw Croatian soldiers in his yard, he hid in a place from which he could see his house and workshop in flames. His father Savo Djuric and his grandmother were held by three soldiers. One of them, the witness contends, ordered the others to throw his father – who had been disabled from childhood and could not walk too well – alive into the burning workshop. His grandmother was crying and begging them not to do it, but they complied with the order. The workshop was shut after the father was thrown into the fire. The witness then fled to the hills and left for Serbia the next day, although he had refused to leave when his mother begged him to on 5 August. Most of the inhabitants left Plavno that day.

The prosecutor tendered the two statements the witness gave and a number of photos showing his burned-down family house and the workshop where the incident took place and the reports on the exhumation and postmortem of the body of Savo Djuric. According to the prosecutor, the two last documents show that a human body was found in the workshop. The body was so badly charred it was impossible to identify it by DNA analysis.

In his cross-examination, Ante Gotovina’s defense counsel tried to prove that Mile Djuric had actually not left his vacation house and had not come to his village on 6 August 1995. He showed the statement given by Milka Djuric, the witness’s mother, to the OTP investigators in 1998. She never mentions the fact that the witness came to the village and that he saw his father being burned alive. Mile Djuric replied that his mother was an old, illiterate woman who may have mixed up some events and dates. She didn't know he was there, the witness added, since he didn't tell her that in 1998. When the defense counsel asked the witness how it is possible he and his mother had never discussed his father’s death in the years following his death, the witness said it was too painful to talk about it so they chose to keep silent.

In the re-examination, the prosecutor showed the second statement Milka Djuric gave to the OTP from 2007, where she says she did see her son for lunch on 6 August 1995. Presiding judge Orie asked if the witness's mother had been told before the 2007 interview that her first statement didn't jibe with what her son had said to the investigators, but the prosecutor said she hadn’t.

The trial of Croatian generals charged with crimes during Operation Storm and in its aftermath in August 1995 continues on 23 June 2008.