News 06 Jun 14

Croatian Policemen Acquitted of Elderly Serbs’ Massacre

A Zagreb court cleared two former Croatian anti-terrorist policemen of the notorious massacre of six Serb civilians during an operation in the village of Grubori in 1995.

Josip Ivanovic
BIRN
Zagreb
The defendants in court. Photo: Beta.

The Zagreb county court on Friday acquitted ex-policemen Franjo Drljo and Bozo Krajina of the murders of the Serbs in August 1995 – one of the most notorious crimes committed by Croatian forces during the country’s 1991-95 war for independence.

The elderly Serb civilians were shot dead, some of them in their beds, and their village of Grubori, near the town of Knin, was torched.

“It is indisputable that six elderly people were killed and that these killings were committed by members of the Lucko anti-terrorist unit, but everything else is disputable,” said judge Zdravko Majerovic while explaining the verdict.

“Innocent people were killed, elderly men and women lying in their beds... These are brutal killings. Croatia and all of us are disgraced by this crime,” Majerovic added.

The two defendants, both members of the Lucko anti-terrorist unit, had denied the charges against them.

“I am a soldier with an immaculate military career. Grubori did not involve us and it could not have involved us,” Krajina told the court last month.

The killings happened amid an ‘anti-terrorist’ operation in the area involving 560 special policemen, just after the Croatian military’s Operation Storm which seized back parts of the country that had been under Serb control.

The operation was meant to secure the passage of a ‘Freedom Train’ from Zagreb to Split via Knin, which carried President Franjo Tudjman, who was giving speeches at various stops to praise the Croatian Army for ‘liberating’ the area.

Ivan Cermak, who was the military governor of the Knin area at the time, was cleared of responsibility for the crimes in Grubori by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 2011.

The UN-backed court ruled that he could not be held accountable for failing to prevent the crimes or punishing the perpetrators, although he had covered up the crimes in the media.

Mladen Markac, a Croatian general who was deputy defence minister at the time of the killings and who was also acquitted of war crimes by the ICTY, was among those who defended the operation during the lengthy trial of the Grubori suspects in Zagreb.

“We were afraid of attacks from the forests so we had to clean the terrain of terrorists. That was the main objective of the special police,” Markac told the court.

The prosecution has the right to appeal to the supreme court.

After Friday’s verdict, Croatian rights campaigners complained that justice had not been done.

“If the three people accused are not guilty, then someone else is guilty. I hope that the case will not end with this acquittal, but that the real perpetrators will be identified. However, we should wait for the final verdict from the supreme court,” said Zoran Pusic, the president of the Civic Committee for Human Rights.

“We know from the reports of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Croatia that more than 600 civilians were killed during and in the aftermath of Operation Storm,” said Vesna Terselic, director of the Zagreb-based NGO, Documenta – Centre for Dealing with the Past.

But she noted that only one person had so far been convicted of committing war crimes during the operation, Croatian Army officer Bozo Bacelic, who was jailed for seven years for killing a couple in the village of Prokljan.

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