Croatian Veterans Plan Protest as UN Court Renders Final Verdict
Thousands of Croatian veterans plan to gather on Zagreb’s main square tomorrow, when a United Nations court announces its final ruling on an appeal by two generals convicted of atrocities against Serbs in 1995.
The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia will say whether it rejected 2011 appeals by Generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, who were convicted in April 2011 of the murder and persecution of Serbs in the 1995 Operation Storm, which ended the war following Croatia’s 1991 independence from Yugoslavia. Gotovina was sentenced to 24 years in jail and Markac to 18 years.
“The verdict will be a judgment not only on the generals, but on all the veterans and also on the Croatian state,” said Josip Klemm, head of a special police veterans association, in a phone interview. “Whatever the verdict, we will face it with dignity.”
The case closes as the former Yugoslav republic prepares to join the European Union and struggles to recover after three years of recession or stagnation. Croatia, which is set to join the bloc in July, has cooperated with the extradition of the generals to The Hague and supports their defense teams in claiming the generals couldn’t prevent the troops from committing crimes.
In Operation Storm, the Croatian army reclaimed swaths of land held by rebel Serbs, who since 1991 opposed Croatia’s drive to break away from the former Yugoslavia. While most Serbs fled the approaching Croat forces, murders and lootings were reported after the Croatian army took over.
Thousands of Serbs in recent years have returned as their reintegration was a key element for Croatia to conclude EU membership talks.
For many Croats, the generals symbolize the country’s independence and the beginning of the operation is celebrated as a public holiday called Victory Day. Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic has repeatedly said that Gotovina is “paying someone else’s debt.”
In its 2011 verdict, the court said that Gotovina was part of a “joint criminal enterprise,” along with former President Franjo Tudjman, Defense Minister Gojko Susak and Army Chief of Staff Janko Bobetko, all three of whom are now dead.
Veterans will begin to gather tonight on main squares throughout the country, Klemm said. Tens of thousands are expected in Zagreb’s main square, Trg bana Jelacica, after a wake in the cathedral, he said.
“The court is not likely to let the generals go, but could reduce the original sentences,” said Jelena Lovric, a chief political analyst at Europa Press Holding, the country’s largest newspaper publisher. “Crimes were committed, and whatever the verdict, it’s unlikely it will make Croats face their past.”
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