Thousands of people across several Balkan countries have held services to commemorate those who died in Operation Storm 15-years ago.
Croatia’s Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor headed a delegation of high-ranking officials at Zagreb central cemetery to mark the military operation carried out by forces from her country and Bosnia and Herzegovina to retake areas of Croatia claimed by ethnic Serbs.
She said on Wednesday the operation had been “a victory” over the policies of former Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic.
Masses were held at the same time in main churches in Belgrade and Banja Luka for about 2,000 Serbs who were believed to have been killed during the operation, according to Serbian non-governmental organisations.
A service held in St. Mark’s Church in Belgrade was conducted by Head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej, in the presence of Serbian high state officials including the country’s President Boris Tadic, Deputy PM Jovan Krkobabic and Secretary General of the Serbian Parliament, Veljko Odalovic.
In Croatia, August 4 is celebrated as a Victory Day and Homeland Thanksgiving Day, as well as Veterans Day.
A day earlier, Boris Tadic met in Belgrade with family members of those who went missing during the operation, saying that “the crime must not be forgotten” and one must turn to the future relations between Serbia and Croatia.
His statement was badly received in Croatia, with Kosor saying Storm could not be described as a “crime”.
“The fact for the history is that operation Storm helped to stop Milosevic policy in the region. Croatia will not allow to anybody to revise its history, especially when it is related to freedom we gained,” Kosor said on Wednesday.
Ivo Josipovic, the Croatian president, also condemned Tadic`s statement, saying that the operation was“ a legitimate and legal military action meant to liberate part of Croatia that was under occupation”.
Croat member of the Bosnian three-partite Presidency, Zeljko Komsic, sent greetings to his Croatian counterpart, calling the day a “day of biggest victory for Croatia, the day when your army in the best possible way showed what does it meant to protect homeland and democracy”.
The Republic of Croatia declared its independence on June 25, 1991. By the end of the year, the Yugoslav People’s Army and different Serb forces took control of more than one third of the country, proclaiming it the Republic of Serb Krajina.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, in The Hague, indicted three former Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina, Mladen Markac and Ivan Cermak for crimes committed during the operation.
Prosecutor Alan Tieger has urged judges to sentence Gotovina to 27 years in prison, Cermak 17 years and Markac 23.
Both sides will begin presenting their closing arguments on August 30.
Operation Storm (Oluja) began on August 4, 1995, in Croatia and part of Bosnia and Herzegovina as the armies from both countries sought to takeover territories that had been under Serb control since 1991.
About 200,000 people were also believed to have been forced from their homes.