Alun Roberts, former UN press officer in Krajina, survived Gotovina’s death threats. In his evidence as a prosecution witness today, Roberts offered his explanation why the Croatian general called him ‘a spy and agent provocateur’

Alun Roberts, witness at the Gotovina, Cermak and Markac trialAlun Roberts, witness at the Gotovina, Cermak and Markac trial

When Operation Storm was launched in the morning of 4 August 1995, Alun Roberts, UN press officer in Sector South, was in his Knin apartment. Testifying today at the trial of Croatian generals Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac, Roberts confirmed that the statements he has given to the OTP investigators since 1997 were all true. Knin was shelled ‘all over the place’, Roberts said; the artillery targeted the town center in particular, and there were no military targets there. He claims he saw three dead bodies lying in the street and a number of damaged civilian buildings.

Soon after that, Roberts was taken by UN soldiers to the Sector South base where he resumed his duties. In the months that followed, he visited Krajina villages and towns. In his statement to the OTP he talked in detail about his visit to the village of Grubori in the Plavno Valley. He went there on 25 August 1995 with Edward Flynn, chief of the UN Human Rights Action Team. When they arrived in the early morning, they saw many burned-down houses and terrified women who were screaming, ‘soldiers’ and ‘shooting’.

Upset by what they saw, Roberts and Flynn went directly to the military governor Ivan Cermak in Knin. Since Cermak was out of office, they reported the situation in Grubori to his deputy, Colonel Donda. Donda tried to convince them that the houses were most likely burned down in the clashes with members of the SVK. Later that evening, Roberts and other UN representatives returned to the village to check the situation there. They found five elderly civilians who had been killed: three men and two women. A few days later, Roberts saw General Cermak on Croatian TV, saying that he visited the village of Grubori on 26 August and saw that the civilians had been killed in ‘cross fire’ between the Croatian forces and the remaining ‘Serb terrorists’. Roberts said that, as far as he knew, the UN Sector South command never received any notification about an investigation into the Grubori incident.

The witness contends that, as a press officer, he received daily reports from UN civilian and military observers describing incidents similar to the one in Grubori. The reports spoke of systematic violence, arson and looting wherever the Croatian troops or special police went. Roberts claims that this was a ’pattern nobody prevented’ which is why it ’tended towards’ ethnic cleansing rather that isolated incidents.

Roberts’s name was mentioned at the trial of the three Croatian generals during the evidence of Alain Forand, UN Sector South commander. He recounted that during a meeting in September 1995 General Gotovina heard objections about anarchy in Krajina and responded by accusing the UN mission and its press officer Alun Roberts in particular; he called Roberts ‘a spy and an agent provocateur’. Gotovina threatened he would kill Roberts. Today, Roberts said that he wasn’t present at that meeting but was told about Gotovina’s threats. ‘I knew that my behavior irritated him, primarily because of what I was telling the foreign and domestic press about the situation in the field’, the witness explained.

The witness was cross-examined today by Cermak’s defense counsel; tomorrow he will be examined by the defense teams of the other two accused.