The invasion of Serbian Krajina?

            By Gregory Elich

             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."

    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

    "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.