Slavko Degoricija, Croatian wartime interior deputy minister, testified on Tuesday that he and the Interior Minister knew about the prison in Pakracka Poljana ran by the "mercepovci" unit.
Testifying at the war crimes trial against Tomislav Mercep, top advisor to the Croatian wartime Interior Ministry, Degoricija claimed he heard complaints about behaviour of "Mercepovci" unit during the war from several people in the towns of Vukovar, Gospic and Pakrac, where the unit operated.
There are "no doubts" Mercep commanded the "mercepovci", Degoricija said.
Degoricija said that Mercep was one of those people "who operated outside of the legal framework" and "did not want to calm tensions" in the wake of the war in Croatia.
That was the reason why, as Degoricija said in court, he did not have good relations with Mercep.
Mercep's unit consisted of 30-50 men and acted "independently and on their own, but somebody surely protected them", Degoricija said, without naming who that was.
Asked to explain why the “Mercepovci” had police badges, Degoricija answered that "anybody who wanted could become a policeman" in those times.
According to Degoricija, voluntary policemen were not officially issued with guns, but could carry the guns they bought themselves
The Croatian government's war commissioner for the Pakrac county, Vladimir Delac, who met Mercep during the war in Pakrac, testified that he "regarded Mercep as authoritative, because he considered him a minister’s advisor".
Tomislav Mercep has been charged, as a commander of a police unit, to have personally ordered the unlawful arrest, torture and killing of civilians from October to mid-December 1991, in and around Zagreb and in the towns of Kutina and Pakrac in central Croatia.
According to the indictment, his police unit, the "mercepovci" illegally captured 52 people, mainly Croatian Serbs, killing 43 of them, while three disappeared and six survived torture.
The trial continues on July 9.