The invasion of Serbian Krajina?
This study is based on a paper presented in book "NATO in the Balkans" (ISBN 0-9656916-2-4), pages 131 - 140.
In early August 1995, the Croatian invasion of Serbian Krajina precipitated the worst refugee crisis of the Yugoslav civil war. Within days, more than two hundred thousand Serbs, virtually the entire population of Krajina, fled their homes, and 14,000 Serbian civilians lost them lives. According to a UN official "Almost the only people remaining were the dead and the dying." The Clinton administration's support for the invasion was an important factor in creating this nightmare.
The previous month, Secretary of State Warren Christopher and German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel met with Croatian diplomat Miomir Zuzul in London. During this meeting, Christopher gave his approval for Croatian military action against Serbs in Bosnia and Krajina. Two days later, the U.S. ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbright, also approved Croatia's invasion plan. Stipe Mesic, a prominent Croatian politician, stated that Croatian President Franjo Tudjman "received the go-ahead from the United States. Tudjman can do only what the Amecans allow him to do. Krajina is the reward for having accepted, under Washington's pressure, the federation between Croats and Muslims in Bosnia." Croatian assembly deputy Mate Mestrovic also claimed that the "United States gave us the green light to do whetever had to be done." (1)
As Croatian troops launched their assault on August 4, U.S. NATO aircraft destroyed Serbian radar and anti-aircraft defenses. American EA-6B electronic warfare aircraft patrolled the air in support of the invasion. Krajina foreign affairs advisor Slobodan Jarcevic stated that NATO "completely led and coordinated the entire Croat offensive by first destroying radar and anti-aircraft batteries. What NATO did most for the Croatian Army was to jam communications between [Serb] military commands...." (2)
Following the elimination of Serbian anti-aircraft defenses, Croatian planes carried out extensive attacks on Serbian towns and positions. The roads were clogged with refugees, and Croatian aircraft bombed and strafed refugee columns. Serbian refugees passing through the town of Sisak were met by a mob of Croatian extremists, who hurled rocks and concrete at them. A UN spokesman said, "The windows of almost every vehicle were smashed and almost every person was bleeding from being hit by some object." Serbian refugees were pulled from their vehicles and beaten. As fleeing Serbian civilians poured into Bosnia, a Red Cross representative in Banja Luka said, "I've never seen anything like it. People are arriving at a terrrifying rate." Bosnian Muslim troops crossed the border and cut off Serbian escape routes. Trapped refugees were massacred as they were pounded by Croatian and Muslim artillery. Nearly 1,700 refugees simply vanished. While Croatian and Muslim troops burned Serbian villages, President Clinton expressed his understanding for the invasion, and Christopher said events "could work to our advantage." (3)
The Croatian rampage through the region left a trail of devastation. Croatian special police units, operating under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, systematically looted abandoned Serbian villages. Everything of value - cars, stereos, televisions, furniture, farm animals - was plundered, and homes set afire. (4) A confidential European Union report stated that 73 percent of Serbian homes were destroyed. (5) Troops of the Croatian army also took part, and pro-Nazi graffiti could be seen on the walls of several burnt-out Serb buildings.(6)
Massacres continued for several weeks after the fall of Krajina, and UN patrols discovered numerous fresh unmarked graves and bodies of murdered civilians. (7) The European Union report states, "Evidence of atrocities, an average of six corpses per day, continues to emerge. The corpses, some fresh, some decomposed, are mainly of old men. Many have been shot in the back of the head or had throats slit, others have been mutilated... Serb lands continue to be torched and looted." (8)
Following a visit in the region a member of the Zagreb Helsinki Committee reported, "Virtually all Serb villages had been destroyed.... In a village near Knin, eleven bodies were found, some of them were massacred in such a way that it was not easy to see whether the body was male or female." (9)
UN spokesman Chris Gunness noted that UN personnel continued to discover bodies, many of whom had been decapitated. (10) British journalist Robert Fisk reported the murder of elderly Serbs, many of whom were burned alive in their homes. He adds, "At Golubic, UN officers have found the decomposing remains of five people... the head of one of the victims was found 150 feet from his body. Another UN team, meanwhile is investigating the killing of a man and a woman in the same area after villagers described how the man's ears and nose had been mutitated." (11)
After the fall of Krajina, Croatian chief of staff General Zvonimir Cervenko characterized Serbs as "medieval shepherds, troglodytes, destroyers of anything the culture of man has created." During a triumphalist train journey through Croatia and Krajina, Tudjman spoke at each railway station. To great applause, he announced, "There can be no return to the past, to the times when [Serbs] were spreading cancer in the heart of Croatia, a cancer that was destroying the Croatian national being." He then went on to speak of the "ignominious disappearance" of the Serbs from Krajina "so it is as if they have never lived here... They didn't even have time to take with them their filthy money or their filthy underwear!" American ambassador Peter Gaibraith dismissed claims that Croatia had engaged in "ethnie cleansing," since he defined this term as something Serbs do. (12)
U.S. representatives blocked Russian attempts to pass a UN Security Council resolution condemning the invasion. According to Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic, American officials gave advice on the conduct of the operation, and European and military experts and humanitarian aid workers reported shipments of U.S weapons to Croatia over the two months preceding the invasion. A French mercenary also witnessed the arrival of American and German weapons at a Croatian port, adding, "The best of the Croats' armaments were German- and Amencan-made." The U.S. "directly or indirectly," says French intelligence analyst Pierre Hassner, "rearmed the Croats." Analysts at Jane's Information Group say that Croatian troops were seen wearing American uniforms and carrying U S. communications equipment. (13)
The invasion of Krajina was preceded by a thorough CIA and DIA analysis of the region. (14) According to Balkan specialist Ivo Banac, this "tactical and intelligence support" was furnished to the Croatian Army at the beginning of its offensive. (15)
In November 1994, the United States and Croatia signed a military agreement. Immediately afterward, U.S. intelligence agents set up an operations center on the Adriatic island of Brac, from which reconnaissance aircraft were launched. Two months earlier, the Pentagon contracted Military Professional Resources, Inc (MPRI) to train the Croatian military.(16) According to a Croatian officer, MPRI advisors "lecture us on tactics and big war operations on the level of brigades, which is why we needed them for Operation Storm when we took the Krajina." Croatian sources claim that U.S. satellite intelligence was furnished to the Croatian military. (17) Following the invasion of Krajina, the U.S. rewarded Croatia with an agreement "broadening existing cooperation" between MPRI and the Croatian mititary. (18) U.S. advisors assisted in the reorganization of the Croatian Army. Referring to this reorganization in an interview with the newspaper Vecernji List, Croatian General Tihomir Blaskic said, "We are building the foundations of our organization on the traditions of the Croatian home guard" - pro-Nazi troops in World War II. (19)
It is worth examining the nature of what one UN official terms "America's newest ally." During World War II, Croatia was a Nazi puppet state in which the Croatian fascist Ustashe murdered as many as one million Serbs, Jews, and Roman (Gypsies). Disturbing signs emerged with the election of Franjo Tudjman to the Croatian presidency in 1990 Tudjman said, "I am glad my wife is neither Serb nor Jew," and wrote that accounts of the Holocaust were "exaggerated" and "one-sided." (20)
Much of Tudjman's financial backing was provided by Ustasha emigres and several Ustasha war criminals were invited to attend the first convention of Tudjman's political party, the Croatian Democratie Union. (21)
Tudjman presented a medal to a former Ustasha cormmander living in Argentina, Ivo Rojnica. After Rojnica was quoted as saying, "Everything I did in 1941 I would do again," international pressure prevented Tudjman from appointing him to the post of ambassador to Argentina. When former Ustasha official Vinko Nikolic returned to Croatia, Tudjman appointed him to a seat in parliament. Upon former Ustasha officer Mate Sarlija's return to Croatia, he was personally welcomed at the airport by Defense Minister Gojko Susak, and subsequently given the post of general in the Croatian Army. (22) On November 4, 1996, thirteen former Ustasha officers were presented with medals and ranks in the Croatian Army. (23)
Croatia adopted a new currency in 1994, the kuna, the same name as that used by the Ustasha state, and the new Croatian flag is a near-duplicate of the Ustasha flag. Streets and buildings have been renamed for Ustasha official Mile Budak, who signed the regime's auti-Semitic laws, and more than three thousand anti-fascist monuments have been demolished. In an open letter, the Croatian Jewish community protested the rehabilitation of the Ustasha state. In April 1994, the Croatian government demanded the removal of all "non-white" UN troops from its territory, claimiug that "only first-world troops" understood Croatia's "problems." (24)
On Croatian television in April 1996, Tudjman called for the return of the remains of Ante Pavelic, the leader of the Croatian pro-Nazi puppet state "After all, both reconciliation and recognition should be granted to those who deserve it," Tudjman said, adding, "We should recognize that Pavelic's ideas about the Croatian state were positive," but that Pavelic's only mistake was the murder of a few of his colleagues and nationalist allies. (25) Three months later, Tudjman said of the Serbs driven from Croatia "The fact that 90 percent of them left is their own problem... Naturally we are not going to allow them all to return." During the same speech, Tudjman referred to the pro-Nazi state as "a positive thing." (26)
During its violent secession from Yugoslavia in 1991, Croatia expelled more than three hundred thousand Serbs, and Serbs were eliminated from ten towns and 183 viilages. (27) In 1993, Helsinki Watch reported: "Since 1991 the Croatian authorities have blown up or razed ten thousand houses mostly of Serbs, but also houses of Croats. In some cases, they dynarnited homes with the families inside." Thousands of Serbs have been evicted from their homes. Croatian human-rights activist Ivan Zvonimir Cicak says beatings, plundering, and arrests were the usual eviction methods. (28)
Tomislav Mercep, until recently the advisor to the Interior minister and a member of Parliament, is a death-squad leader. Mercep's death squad murdered 2,500 Serbs in western Slavonia in 1991 and 1992, actions Mercep defends as "heroic deeds." (29) Death squad officer Miro Bajramovic's spectacular confession revealed details: "Nights were worst for [our prisoners]... burning prisoners with a flame, pouring vinegar over their wounds mostly on genitalia and on the eyes. Then there is that little inducton, field phone, you plug a Serb onto that... The most painfull is to stick little pins under the nails and to connect to the three phase current; nothing remains of a man but ashes... After all, we knew they would all be killed, so it did not matter if we hurt turn more today or tomorrow."
"Mercep knew everything," Bajramovic claimed. "He told us several times: 'Tonight you have to clean all these shits.' By this he meant all the prisoners should be executed." (30)
Sadly, the Clinton administration's embrace of Croatia follows a history of support for fascists when it suits American geopolitical interests: Chile's Augusto Pinochet, Indonesia's Suharto, Paraguay's Aifredo Stroessner, and a host of others. The consequences of this policy for the people affected have been devastating.
[ Krajina ]
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Last revised: Dec. 28, 1998