Victims remembered 20 years after Croatia's Operation Flash

BELGRADE -- Friday marks 20 years since the offensive of Croatian forces against Serb areas in western Slavonia, at the time a part of the Republic of Serb Krajina (RSK).

(Tanjug, file)
(Tanjug, file)

During the two-day operation dubbed "Flash", which started on May 1, 1995 about five o'clock in the morning with an artillery attack on the town of Pakrac, the Croatian army took control of the area.

A large number of Serb civilians were killed during the operation and about 30,000 were forced to leave their homes.

According to the data of the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights (HHO), presented in July 2003. the offensive resulted in the deaths of 83 Serb civilians. Of that number, 30 were killed when refugee convoys came under attack, while 53 died in their homes.

According to the data of the Documentation and Information Center Veritas from April 2003, 283 Serbs were either killed or have been listed as missing since May 1, 1995.

A day after Croatia launched its offensive against western Slavonia, then leader of the RSK Milan Martic ordered the shelling of Zagreb which lasted two days. For this, Martic was indicted for war crimes by the Hague Tribunal, found guilty, and sentenced to 35 years in prison.

The forces of the former RSK fired 23 missiles which resulted in the deaths of six people while 176 others were injured.

The Hague Tribunal was also preparing a war crimes indictment against then Croatian President Franjo Tudjman who died in 1999.

In April 2001, Hague investigators question former Croatian Army Chief of Staff Peter Stipetic - but he cleared of all suspicion of responsibility for the crimes committed during operations Medak Pocket (Medacki Dzep), Flash, and Storm.

Hague investigators have also interviewed several other Croatian officers, but decided not to indict any of them.

In July 2005, the Croatian prosecution received a complaint against General Mladen Kruljac over the war crimes committed in western Slavonia during Operation Flash. That complaint was forwarded to the competent prosecutor's office in Slavonski Brod, but he was never indicted.

A month later, then Croatian President Stjepan Mesic promoted Kruljak to the rank of lieutenant general.

In July 2010, 28 bodies were exhumed from the local cemetery in the village of Medari near Nova Gradiska in western Slavonia, including those of children. These were the victims of Operation Flash buried in a mass grave. In May 2011, the remains of 48 more Serbs murdered during the operation were exhumed at the local cemetery in the village of Vrboljani, and a year later 28 more in the municipality of Novska.

According to the Veritas Center data published in November 2011, the remains of 14 Serbs were identified in Zagreb, also the victims of the operation carried out 20 years ago by the Croatian Army and police.

The Commission for Missing Persons of the Serbian Government announced in July 2014 that 1,035 Serb victims of operations Flash and Storm had been exhumed from registered burial sites in Croatia from 2001 until 2013.

In May of 2013 the Serbian War Crimes Prosecution announced it was working closely with Croatian counterparts to shed light on the murder of 21 Serb civilians on May 1, 1995.

A memorial service for the victims has been held in Belgrade's Church of St. Marko on Friday, organized by an association of the victims' families.

President of the Coalition of Refugee Associations and Deputy Chairman of the Serbian Parliamentary Committee on Diaspora Miodrag Linta will on Saturday in Gradiska attend a ceremony marking 20 years of the killings and persecution of Serbs in western Slavonia.

After a memorial service, wreaths will be laid at a memorial to the victims, while Linta will address those gathered.

In memory of the killed Serbs, those gathered will walk to the middle of a bridge and cast flowers and wreaths into the Sava River.

The ceremonies will be organized by an association of Serbs driven out of western Slavonia and the municipality of Gradiska, located on the border with Croatia in the Serb Republic, the Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina.