News 02 May 12

Serbia and Croatia Mark Operation 'Flash' Differently

The anniversary of a key military operation in Croatia's war for independence was marked with warm words in Zagreb and a mournful church service in Belgrade.

Marija Ristic, Boris Pavelic
Belgrade, Zagreb
Belgraders paying a homage I Photo by Beta

Croats and Serbs marked the anniversary of the Croatian Army's 1995 "Operation Flash" [Bljesak] in radically different fashions.

The operation was a key event in Croatia's attempt to recover control of all its territory from ethnic Serb separatists who in the early 1990s seized one-third of the republic.

While Croatia marked the 17th anniversary of the operation as a liberation action, honouring its soldiers for recovering the territory of western Slavonia, Serbia mourned victims that were either killed or expelled from their homes.

Croatian President Ivo Josipovic, who recently decorated former soldiers who participated in Flash, said the operation had been crucial to “Croatia's path towards independence and freedom” adding that Croatia's war of independence “was justified and defensive, though at the same time all war crimes that took place should be punished”.

In Belgrade and in other parts of Serbia, families of the victims and refugees paid homage to those killed, some attending a service in Belgrade's St Mark's church.

Beakaway Serbs opposed to Croatia's independence from Yugoslavia proclaimed the Serbian Autonomous Territory of Western Slavonia in August 1991.

According to the ' Chronology of war', a book published by the Croatian Information Centre in 1998, 14,206 people, including 13,000 non-Serbs, fled their homes trying to escape the ethnic violence during the autumn and winter of 1991.

The territory was under the protection of the UN Protection Forces, UNPROFOR, from June 1992 until 1995.

Croatian Army during Operation Flash I Photo by Beta

But on May 1 1995 the Croatian Army struck back with a surprise attack on the town of Pakrac, rapidly taking control of the whole enclave and reintegrating it into Croatia.

Around 30,000 Serbs fled the area to Serb-held land in Bosnia or to Serbia. The number of killed people in the action remains a subject of dispute.

According to the Serbian NGO Veritas 283 people were killed in Flash, while the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights says the figure is below 90.

In retaliation to Operation Flash, Milan Martic, president of the self proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina ordered a rocket attack on Croatian capital, Zagreb, which killed six people.

The Hague Tribunal, ICTY, later sentenced Martic to 35 years in prison for murder, persecution on political and religious grounds and inhumane acts.

Following Operation Flash, according to the book “Chronology of war”, Croatian forces captured around 1,450 Serbian soldiers and 238 of them were investigated for war crimes.

The ICTY at one time said it suspected the Croatian Army's former chief, Petar Stipetic, had committed war crimes during operations Flash and Storm [Oluja] - the larger follow-up operation carried out later in 1995 - but he was acquitted after the investigation.

Serbian Prosecutors are currently investigating alleged war crimes committed in the Slavonian village of Medari, where a mass grave containing 28 bodies was found in 2010.

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