» Media Watch
» (E) Quite obviously an operation to liberate territory
|(E) Quite obviously an operation to liberate territory
|By Nenad N. Bach |
(E) Quite obviously an operation to liberate territory
|CROWN, HIC, Croatian American Times, feel free to distribute, republish, |
This was published - in slightly edited form - in InterLib No.5, the
newslettter of the Liberal International Group (although these are my
personal views and not the Group's) and consequently has been read by a
number of British Liberal parliamentarians. For illustrations, the Veritas
website may be of interest, with its "Krajina" images and reference from
InterLib No.5 November 2001
The Gotovina War Crimes Indictment
The recent controversial indictment of Croatian General Ante Gotovina by the
International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is in many
ways as significant as the forthcoming Milosevic trial. Gotovina is charged
with ethnic cleansing - 'deportation' – of 'Krajina' Serbs in Croatia's 1995
'Operation Storm' campaign to liberate its territories held since the Serb
invasion of 1991. The charges also include his responsibility for murders of
Serbs and destruction of property during and in the aftermath of Operation
Storm. Before Gotovina has even stepped foot in The Hague - his whereabouts
are unknown - questions and doubts about this indictment have been raised in
Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal.
To find out what is problematic about this indictment, a quick re-cap of what
happened in Croatia is required. In 1991, the Yugoslav Army invaded, occupied
and ethnically cleansed one third of Croatia. This included the destruction
of Vukovar. In the occupied territories the illegal structure of 'Krajina'
was set up. In the process, at least 15,000 Croats were slaughtered and at
least 170,000 ethnically cleansed. The UN rolled in. Their mandate was to
re-integrate territory with Croatia, disarm the combatants and return
refugees. The UN failed to carry out this mandate, effectively protecting
Serb gains. Ethnic cleansing of the remaining Croats continued. Furthermore,
Croat cities were bombarded from the occupied territories. 'Krajina' Serbs
even launched an invasion into Bosnia-Herzegovina to attack the UN safe haven
of Bihac. This included aircraft bombing the enclave with napalm and cluster
bombs. By August 1995 the situation was critical; if Bihac – strategically
positioned - fell, 'Greater Serbia' would have been effectively established.
Shortly after Srebrenica, the fate of the citizens of Bihac would not be
difficult to imagine. Operation Storm was implemented.
The 'Krajina' Serb leadership ordered the Serbs to leave, and most left ahead
of the Croatian Army advance. Large swathes of Croatian territory was
recovered, Bihac was saved and further chunks of
Bosnia-Herzegovina liberated. The ‘Greater Serbia’ project was stopped dead
and the end of the war the result. Since then, over 3,000 Croat corpses have
been dug up in the formerly occupied territories; an indicator of what
'Krajina' was built on and why many Serbs were keen to leave. As can be seen,
'Operation Storm' was a more than legitimate operation yet the ICTY
characterise it as an ethnic cleansing exercise.
ICTY indictments carry background histories to events. None of the above
facts are mentioned in the Gotovina indictment - bar a comment that the
Croatian government stated that one third of Croatia was controlled by the
Yugoslav army and local Serbs. The omission of information such as how
'Krajina' was created gives the impression that 'Krajina' is a historic Serb
dominated province that had always existed.
Most of Croatia's Serbs didn't even live in the occupied territories.
'Krajina' was the term for the Austro-Hungarian 'Military Frontier' abolished
in 1881. There has never been any Serb 'Krajina' province. The correct terms
for the areas occupied are their historic names of Lika, Kordun and
Dalmatinska Zagora; ignored in the indictment.
In a bizarre contradiction, the Milosevic indictment for Croatia does
describe the horror involved in setting up ‘Krajina’ which it describes as
nothing less than part of a "criminal enterprise". It gives short shrift to
the whole ‘Krajina’ business, referring to "Croatian Serbs" rather than
"Krajina Serbs" as in the Gotovina indictment. It refers quite clearly to the
Serbs "occupying" this territory. The indictment talks of the ethnic
cleansing of one third of Croatia, hundreds of murders, camps, torture, the
creation of 'Greater Serbia' etc. The horrors of the Serb occupation go a
long way to explain the unfortunate murders of Serbs and arson that took pla
ce during and after Operation Storm. This is not to excuse such behaviour,
which the Croat authorities should indeed punish, but to put it into context.
The Gotovina indictment goes so far as to refer to 'Krajina' as having
"officially" declared independence. The Prosecution has effectively
recognised it as a legitimate state. This ignores both international law and
legitimises the methods - ethnic cleansing – by which it was created. UN
resolutions previously referred to the areas as "occupied territories".
The director of the Serbian 'Veritas' organisation, which claims to be a
human rights organisation documenting crimes against Serbs, already considers
this indictment to be the basis of restoring 'Krajina'. Veritas has been
working very closely with the ICTY for some years. This is dubious enough,
given the organisations political aims. Aims clearly shown by the 'Krajina'
images on their home page - www.veritas.org.yu. It comes as a bit shock then
to see on their website this group being given a glowing reference by the
ICTY-as well as the UN and Red Cross - apparently in order to help Veritas
raise funds for its projects. Whilst one may accept that the ICTY Prosecutor
has to deal with many people, giving a reference to a group that makes
statements in support of restoring a structure based upon violations of
international humanitarian law and illegally appropriating territory of a UN
member beggars belief - especially as the Prosecutors have themselves
referred to the establishment of these structures as a "Criminal enterprise".
It is well known that the Croats were assisted in 'Operation Storm' by US
intelligence. The Americans may not take kindly to this indictment. What is
important - as revealed by Newsweek - is that US intelligence material,
including satellite images, help prove that Gotovina is innocent of the
charges, in particular the deportation charges. As the former US ambassador
to Croatia put it "You can't deport people who have already left". Given that
the orders by the Serb leadership to evacuate Croatia have also been on the
public record for some time, the Prosecutor may be in for a tough time.
But why is the Prosecutor behaving in such a contradictory manner? Clearly,
there are different factions at work in The Hague. One group obviously does
not want to spare anyone's blushes and is going for the jugular of those who
committed the most war crimes. The other is more concerned about creating an
illusion of "all sides equally guilty". But why?
The Croatian war is sensitive. As is known, Milosevic was originally backed
by the Western powers. "All sides equally guilty" was the mantra of both Serb
propagandists and Western governments. 'Operation Storm' angered many in the
West who wanted to see the Serbs win quickly and have their gains legitimised
by 'peace plans' cooked up by David Owen, Carl Bildt etc. 'Operation Storm'
made fools of all these people. The late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman is
named as a co-offender on the indictment; a blatantly political move.
Srebrinica is also relevant. Had Bihac fallen, there would have been another
massacre. The UN allowed the 'Krajina' Serbs to besiege and napalm Bihac; the
very forces the UN were supposed to be disarming. The UN was prepared to
countenance another Srebrenica. Not something many want known, hence the
attempts to criminalize 'Operation Storm'.
When one considers the full truth of the war, Operation Storm is quite
obviously an operation to liberate territory. All countries have the right to
self-defence, and given that the Prosecutors themselves refer to Croatia as
having been part-occupied in the Milosevic indictment then to characterise
Operation Storm as nothing more than an ethnic cleansing operation is a bit
much - especially when negotiations with the Serbs were fruitless after 4
Due to the indictment’s distortion of the historical record, just one
'guilty' verdict on any Gotovina charge and the ‘all sides equally guilty’
view of history becomes 'legitimate' in the eyes of those who seek to
propagate that view: truth and memory are very seriously under attack here.
This is a case that all concerned with a permanent war crimes court should
observe very closely indeed.
Both the Gotovina "Operation Storm" and Milosevic "Croatia" indictments are
available at the ICTY website at: http://www.un.org/icty/ - I recommend all
interested should compare and contrast the treatment of the ‘Krajina’
structures in them.
© Brian Gallagher
distributed by CROWN (Croatian World Net) - CroworldNet@aol.com