THE HAGUE | 23.04.2008.

GENERAL LESLIE UNDER FIRE FROM GENERAL GOTOVINA’S DEFENSE

In a ruthless cross-examination, General Gotovina’s defense counsel tries to discredit the prosecution witness, Canadian general Andrew Leslie. According to General Gotovina’s defense, Leslie is responsible for the charges of excessive shelling of Knin

General Andrew Leslie, commander of the Canadian ground forces and former chief of staff of the UN peace-keeping force in Sector South is considered by General Ante Gotovina’s defense team as the main culprit for the count in the indictment charging their client with excessive shelling of Knin at the beginning of Operation Storm on 4 and 5 August 1995.

According to Leslie’s reports and statements given at the time, on 4 August and 5 August 1995 Knin was shelled with approximately 3,000 rounds which killed between 300 and 500 persons, mostly civilians. About three hundred houses were damaged. The Canadian general did not confirm or withdraw the figures today, noting that those were contemporaneous estimates, based on the information coming in to the Sector South headquarters from different sources.

General Gotovina's defense counsel set Leslie’s estimate of the scale and consequences of the shelling side by side with a report drafted by the UN military observers. On 17 August 1995, they made a preliminary estimate of the damage that covered some seventy percent of the Knin urban area. In their report, they found that the shelling was mainly directed at military targets; the civilian facilities that were hit were located in their immediate vicinity. Only three to five civilian buildings in other parts of the town were hit, the UN military observers stated.

When the defense counsel quoted this document to General Leslie, he tersely replied he was aware of this report and that he remembered that it had caused quite a controversy. At that time, Leslie was already the UNCRO chief of staff, and was stationed in Zagreb. Gotovina’s defense counsel then referred to the final estimate of the damage caused by the shelling, made a week later. It was, as he put it, ‘consistent with the preliminary evaluation’. The witness said he was not aware of the final estimate, adding that he would like to see it. The defense counsel admitted he didn’t have it; no one has been able to locate the report, he said.

The cross-examination of General Leslie by Gotovina’s defense counsel Greg Kehoe, who used to be a prosecutor at the Tribunal, was quite ruthless at times. He accused General Leslie of not heeding numerous warnings of the imminent Croatian attack on Krajina. General Leslie thus failed to raise the alert level in the UN Knin base. This put the UN personnel in danger as they were not withdrawn back to the base on time. On 4 August 1995, the UN staff had to be picked up in various parts of the town and taken back to the base under artillery fire. Kehoe accused the witness of receiving a medal for something he didn’t do, for saving of some forty civilians working for the UN in the base, whom he purportedly transported in armored personnel carriers on 4 August to the base under artillery fire. The Canadian general replied calmly to this and all other accusations of the defense. Kehoe was admonished several times by the judge for cross-examining the witness in this manner.

Tomorrow, General Leslie will answer questions of the parties about what buildings and facilities could be considered legitimate military targets in Knin on 4 August and 5 August 1995.