News 22 Dec 15

Croatian Policemen’s Grubori Massacre Acquittals Quashed

The supreme court annulled the verdict acquitting two former special policemen of war crimes against Serb civilians in the village of Grubori after the Croatian Army’s Operation Storm, ordering a retrial.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
The defendants in court. Photo: Beta.

The supreme court on Monday overturned the verdict acquitting Frano Drljo and Bozo Krajina of committing a war crime by killing six elderly Serb civilians in the village of Grubori near Knin during an ‘anti-terrorist’ sweep conducted after Croatia’s victorious Operation Storm defeated rebel Serb forces in 1995.

Drljo and Krajina, both members of the ‘Lucko’ anti-terrorist police unit, were acquitted by Zagreb county court in June 2014.

Although county court judge Zdravko Majerovic said that “it is indisputable that six elderly people were killed and that these killings were committed by members of the Lucko anti-terrorist unit”, the judges decided that there was no evidence that the defendants were guilty.

The supreme court on Monday accepted the appeal made by the Croatian state attorney’s office, DORH, which argued that some of the statements made by Drljo during the hearings were contradictory.

The court ordered a retrial at Zagreb county court, but with another judge.

It also said that members of the Lucko unit have to testify again, after the majority of them said at the last trial that they did not recall the ‘anti-terrorist’ operation at all.

DORH in January filed another indictment related to crimes committed in Grubori and the surrounding villages in 1995. In addition to Drljo, the former deputy commander of the special police, Zeljko Sacic was also accused.

In February however, DORH withdrew the indictment, saying that it had “significant shortcomings”.

The killings happened amid the ‘anti-terrorist’ operation 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.

During Operation Storm, Croatian forces retook 18 per cent of Croatian territory which had been controlled by rebel Serbs since 1991, practically ending the war in the country.

During and in the aftermath of the operation, some 600, mostly elderly Serb civilians were killed, while around 200,000 Serbs left Croatia.

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