Operation Storm marked in Croatia

ZAGREB -- Croatian state officials marked Operation Storm anniversary – “Victory and patriotic gratitude Day” - in Knin today.

President Mesić, prime minister Sanader, parliament speaker Šeks, cabinet members and a large number of citizens from all over Croatia laid wreaths at the fallen defenders graves at the Knin town cemetery.

In his speech to the gathered members of the 4th Guards Brigade of the Croatian Army, which was the first to enter Knin on August 5, 1995, Mesić said that Operation Storm was conducted according to the international conventions and rules of war, and that all those who planned it and took honorable part in it should be recognized.

“However, even on this occasion we must not forget that after the military part of Operation Storm was over, our state’s legal system failed, quick integration of liberated areas did not occur. This, unfortunately, lead to crimes being committed. Those were excesses perpetrated by irresponsible individuals that should not only be condemned, but also legally processed”, Mesić said.

According to him, Operation Storm created conditions for the end of wars in the former Yugoslavia. Mesić said that the purity of what is in Croatia known as the Patriotic war and the just fight it conducted obligates Croatia to individualize the crimes that took place after Operation Storm, and to put those responsible on trial. Stressing that the process of reconstruction and the return of the refugees in the region is in its final phases, Mesić said that Croatia has “built democratic institutions guaranteeing all its citizens equality and safety, even though ethnic incidents still take place”.

Operation Storm, considered by the Croatian side to be the largest military operation of the war, involved more than 200 000 troops on both sides, and according to official Croatian data, took only 84 hours. Croatian military lost 174 soldiers, while 1 430 were wounded.

During the operation, over 200 000 Croatian Serbs were exiled from the region and the country. Croatian state officials claim that they fled in an organized manner and under pressure from the local Serb authorities, while the Serb side maintains that the events constitute for ethnic cleansing.

Savo Štrbac, Documentation and information center Veritas chairman, said that organization has 1 960 names of Serbs who died or are listed missing during the Croatian army operation. “It’s been 11 years since our exile. Little has improved in Croatia when it comes to the Serb question since. I would today describe Operation Storm as a tragedy, because of those who died, and those who were forced to leave Croatia”, Štrbac said.

The Hague tribunal indicted a number of Croatian generals with crimes against the Serb population during Operation Storm, including Janko Bobetko, Ivan Čermak, Rahim Ademi, Mladen Markač and Ante Gotovina. The Hague indictment states that the operation was a criminal enterprise with the goal of permanently exiling Serbs from Croatia. The late Croatian president Franjo Tuđman stood at the helm of the project, backed by the entire Croatian state, military and police establishment.