A former Croatian special police commander told a Zagreb war crimes trial that President Franjo Tudjman’s office ordered the notorious attack on Grubori in 1995.
“The order to conduct the ‘Knin 95’ action didn’t come from me, but from the office of the president. The police set me up because of political persecution,” said former Croatian special police commander Zeljko Sacic at the trial in Zagreb on Tuesday.
He added that the order was signed by Croatian general Mile Cuk.
Sacic was testifying in the case against two special police force officers charged with war crimes committed in Grubori near the town of Knin in Croatia’s Krajina region on August 25 and 26, 1995.
Frano Drlje and Bozidar Krajina are charged with killing five elderly Serbs.
The murders are among the best-known war crimes perpetrated by Croatian forces during the country's 1991-1995 conflict.
They took place 20 days after Serb rule in the Krajina region was crushed by the Croatian army’s ‘Operation Storm’.
Fighting had come to an end, but police entered the village, shot dead five civilians, some of them in their beds, and burned the village.
Sasic is also currently under investigation for covering up the crimes in Grubori but prosecutors have separated his case from the one against Drlje and Krajina.
Previous witnesses in the case have claimed that Sacic forged military reports from Grubori, in which the police claimed they didn’t attack civilians, insisting instead that the deaths were the result of a battle.
Ivan Zvonimir Cicak, head of the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, said that Sasic came to the village 24 hours after the attack and ordered fighters to put weapons in the hands of dead civilians.
Sacic denied that he forged the military reports, adding that he was ordered to go to the village by Mladen Markac, a Croatian general acquitted of war crimes charges by the Hague Tribunal in November.
“We later found out that a war crime took place in Grubori and that civilians were killed. I came to Grubori on the order of Mladen Markac to see what was happening,” said Sacic.
Sacic added that he later found out from the Hague prosecution that the police lied in the initial report in which it was said that there were no civilians in the village and that there was a battle.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, indicted Markac and Ivan Cermak, then the Croatian military governor of the Knin area, for the Grubori killings.
The ICTY released Cermak in April 2011, declaring that he could not be held accountable for failing to prevent the crimes or punishing the perpetrators, although he had been involved in a media cover-up.
Markac was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment, partly for war crimes in Grubori, but acquitted on appeal last November.
The trial resumes on January 28.