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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 March 2008, 10:20 GMT
Croats in Hague war crimes trial
Croatian former general Ante Gotovina. File photo
Ante Gotovina was arrested in the Canary Islands in 2005
Three Croatian former generals have gone on trial at the UN war crimes tribunal accused of the persecution and murder of Croatian Serbs in the 1990s.

Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac deny charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity including persecution, murder and plunder.

Mr Gotovina's capture in the Canary Islands in 2005 led to protests in Croatia, where many see him as a hero.

The Hague trial is due to last more than a year.

The three men are alleged to have played key roles in Operation Storm, a three-month offensive that took place in Croatia's eastern Krajina region in 1995.

ANTE GOTOVINA
Born 12 Oct 1955
Fought in French Foreign Legion
Commanded Croatian forces against Serb troops in Krajina region, 1995
Early retirement, 2000
Indicted for war crimes in Krajina, 2001
Arrested in Tenerife, Dec 2005

The indictment, dating from 2001, says they planned the ethnic cleansing of Serbs from their self-declared republic.

"This trial arises from the forcible elimination of Krajina Serbs from Croatia and the destruction of their communities in August 1995 and the roles and responsibilities of the generals in that process," prosecutor Alan Tieger said in his opening statement.

"The Serb community was a scarred wasteland of destroyed villages and homes.

"The case is about three men who were instrumental in those crimes."

Mr Gotovina, a former French Foreign Legionnaire, is charged with responsibility for the murder of about 150 Serbs and persecution and deportation of thousands.

About 200,000 Serbs, many of them elderly, were forced out of the region during the offensive.

'Trial of the century'

All three accused - who all plead not guilty - sat side-by-side in court as Mr Tieger was outlining the prosecution case.

Mr Gotovina spent four years on the run before being arrested at a hotel in Spain's Canary Islands in 2005.

The first couple of days of the trial are being shown on national television in Croatia, where it is being dubbed "the trial of the century".

Mr Gotovina's lawyer says his client ended the wars in Bosnia and Croatia and fought against former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic.

The defence argues that Mr Gotovina deserves praise, not a war crimes indictment.

More than 130 witnesses are expected to be called during the trial.


Your comments:

Most people who visit Croatia stay on the coast which is spectacular but if you venture a few kilometres inland you will see the destruction of centuries old Serbian communities. There where no innocent parties in the Yugoslav civil wars . Each side, led by corrupt leaders, were guilty of ethnic cleansing, death and destruction so lets see if the Hague tribunal is an objective, neutral court, or a victors court with the sole aim of labelling the Serbs the bad guys!
Dragan, London UK

if Gotovina is guilty, then every general (or commander in chief, monarch or politician) who has ever been in charge of an army that has ever committed an act of aggression should be guilty too. first stop, Tony Blair and George W. right?
Ivan, Sydney Australia

It is good to see war criminals other than Serbs arrested; contrary to popular belief, the conflict involved three guilty parties; Croats,Bosniaks and Serbs, not to mention the Western powers. When a nation(Hrvatska) beats old fascistic drums, dons Ustashe regalia, raises Ustashe flag and declares Serbs, Jews, Roma and Muslims as being "non-citizens", how do you expect non Croats to react? This is what the Western press fails to mention, of all nations, Croatia is the most responsible, as they began "ethnic cleansing". Gotovina is a fascist and we need another Nuremberg trial. Unfortunately, in Zagreb, after the war, anyone who spoke differently, was branded a traitor. Still is like this. It is why I moved to Ireland.
Ante Bulgakovovic, Eire

General Gotvina is a hero, not a criminal. He led a surgical, American-backed military campaign that minimised civilian deaths, restored Croatia's territorial integrity and averted a humanitarian catastrophe. He deserves the Noble Peace Prize rather than to be indicted as a war criminal. The tribunal is essentially accusing him of not being God. It is claiming that, by virtue of his position, he should have had the foresight to anticipate and prevent any possible future crimes committed by his soldiers during Operation Storm.
D.Sango, New York City, United States

There were undoubtedly war crimes and atrocities committed by all the sides in the conflict, and I hope this trial will show whether the accused were really responsible for the crimes, or were they just someone's puppets or "fall guys". A harsh sentence will certainly have negative connotations in Croatia, but so be it; we do need closure. I hope the court (which has a very negative image in Croatia) will find the courage and strength to deliver a just sentence. It's about time to close this ugly chapter of recent Croatian history, for our sakes, Whatever the outcome of the trial is.
Oto Wilhelm, Jr., Osijek, Croatia

These charges are nonsense and nothing more than a further attempt by the West to make itself feel better about its lack of action during the 90's, by trying to tar the victims of Serb aggression as criminals themselves. The novel theory of "joint criminal enterprise" is an absurdly crude tool which these prosecutors are wielding to indict generals for actions on the part of their troops that they had no knowledge of. Gotovina is, and always will be, a hero; and to paraphrase Bob Dole, if we hadn't stopped the Croats in 1995 we wouldn't be dealing with the Serbs now.
James, USA

Beside serving as a tool for applying political pressure, one other purpose of Hague tribunal is to muddy the waters and make everybody equally guilty/innocent. It is an abomination and insult to justice. Europe, we still remember your sanctions when we were unarmed and under aggression, and we will remember this parody of justice that you forced upon us as well.
Petar Berislavi, Zagreb, Croatia

It's about time that Croatian criminals paid for their crimes to the Serbian people of Krajina. Innocent people, lost their lives. Families lost their homes.
Alexandra Robinson, Northampton

He is not a war criminal at all. All he did was help us get our country back. How about what serbs did? They should be punished for that, not Mr Gotovina. If it wasn't for him, serbs would still be throwing bombs at us, and no one would help us because we don't have oil like iraq.
Ana, London

This trial is a farce. The International War Crimes Tribunal has no legitimacy because they fail to bring American war criminals to trial for the atrocities committed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, etc... This trial is nothing more than an exercise in selective justice. If it can even be called justice. More like a show trial.
Mirko Peretin, Toronto, Canada

HEROES not Villians - by the way, where are Mladic and Karadzic hiding,seems to me that Carla Dela Ponte and the Hague have forgotten about the Real Butchers of the Balkans,instead trialling three innocent men, who were Defending their Homeland!!! Long Live the FREE CROATIA
Ivan Deak, Perth Australia

It still amazes me that The Hague requires the trial of Croats for the sake of balancing out the plethora of Serbian indictments. I have no doubt that these Gotovina and co are hard army men. But the face remains that they ended a war that the various invading Serbian armies and paramilitaries turned very quickly into an ugly affair. If Gotovina is to be tried...then I think some current USA generals should be very afraid. And the sad tragedy in that is that the Croatian generals were liberating sovereign Croatian land.
Elvis Klokanovic, Vinkovci, Croatia

There was a war. Croatia was invaded by former Yugoslavian army (which was 3rd army in Europe) and Croats were brutally murdered and banished from their homes. Then we managed to fight back and thanks to our generals and leadership, emerged from the conflict victorious, driving enemy forces back to Serbia. We are the first country in the history of the world which is put on trial for defending itself against more powerful enemy. Our civilians were slaughtered by serbian paramilitary forces and serb civilians were shooting with all sorts of firearms (given to them by Yugoslav army) on our troops and now we are accused of killing civilians! And now Serbia is again brewing things in the area over Kosovo. Just wait and see what they really are.
Davor, Zagreb, Croatia



VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Police footage of Ante Gotovina's arrest



SEE ALSO
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