“Operation Storm” generals trial set for final phase

The closing arguments in the war crimes trials of three generals involved in Croatia’s 1995 “Operation Storm”, in which hundreds of ethnic Serbs were allegedly killed, are set to be heard in The Hague.

Prosecution and defence lawyers will begin their closing statements from 30 August in the cases of Ante Gotovina, Mladen Markac and Ivan Cermak, on trial for their roles in the military offensive.

All three are charged with killing Serb civilians from the Krajina territory during the operation carried out by Croatian Armed Forces and the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina against separatist ethnic Serbs.

At least 324 Serbs were killed, 90,000 forcibly displaced and 2,544 houses destroyed in the assault, according to the prosecution.

The operation was carried out using “force, intimidation, persecution, forcible transfer, deportation, looting and destruction of property” of Serb civilians, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors have recommended Gotovina should serve 27 years in jail, Markac 23 years and Ivan Cermak 17 years.

The prosecution has said the offensive was masterminded by Croatia’s first president, Franjo Tudjman who died in 1999, having never been indicted at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY.

The plan to permanently remove the Krajina Serbs from the territory was formed during a meeting of high-ranking military and police officials and government representatives, including the four defendants, on 31 July, 1995, on Brijuni island, off the coast of Croatia, prosecutors said.

Gotivina was commander of the Split Military District of the Croatian Army, HV, and overall operational commander during the operation, Cermak commanded the Knin Garrison and Markac was head of the special police forces.

In its final brief, the prosecution argues each of the accused committed grievous offences “on a discriminatory basis against the Serb population of the Krajina with far-reaching consequences”.

The prosecution has been given six hours to deliver its closing arguments, and the three defence teams will have two-and-a-half hours each.

The trial opened on 11 March 2008 and has lasted more than two trial years.

A total of 145 witnesses have given evidence.

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