THE HAGUE | 24.11.2009.

HOW MANY SERBS LEFT KRAJINA?

Former chief of the Croatian Office for Refugees and Displaced Persons Lovre Pejkovic claims that 120,000 Serbs left Krajina during and after Operation Storm. The prosecution brought up a UN report stating that almost 200,000 Serbs fled the region. According to the data of the Office for Refugees and Displaced Persons, the witness said, approximately 40,000 Serbs returned to Croatia by 2000

As his examination-in chief drew to a close, former chief of the Croatian Office for Refugees and Displaced Persons Lovre Pejkovic said that by May 2000 a little over 40,000 Serbs had returned to Croatia. Those Serbs had fled during and after operations Storm and Flash. Presiding judge Orie wanted to know how many of those Serbs returned to Sector South in Krajina because it figures in the indictment against generals Gotovina, Cermak and Markac, but the witness couldn’t tell him ‘off the cuff’. He referred the Trial Chamber to a report drafted by the Croatian government with the breakdown of the returnees by municipality. The Croatian generals are charged with participating in the joint criminal enterprise whose goal was the permanent elimination of Serbs from Krajina in August 1995.

In his statement to Mladen Markac’s defense, Pejkovic said that about 8,000 Serbs left Western Slavonia after Operation Flash and some 120,000 Serbs left after Operation Storm. Prosecutor Ryan Carrier in his cross-examination contested those figures pointing to a UN report from October 1995, which stated that 12,000 Serbs left Western Krajina and 200,000 of them fled Krajina. The witness replied that in both cases the figures were estimates, either of the Croatian authorities or the UN. However, the witness added, the figures compiled later by the UNHCR were closer to 120,000 refugees. The witness added that about 10,000 mostly elderly and bed-ridden Serbs remained in Krajina after Operation Storm.

Until 1998, when the Croatian authorities put together a plan for the return of the displaced persons and refugees, only individuals were allowed to return to Krajina: a small number of the Serbs who remained in Croatia were allowed to reunite with their family members who had fled. Noting that the number of those who returned on that basis was fiddled with to suit various agendas, the prosecution showed the minutes of a meeting in Franjo Tudjman’s office on 25 October 1995, where interior minister Jarnjak says that several hundred Serbs came back to Croatia to reunite with their families. Ivica Kostovic, who served in the president’s office, retorts that he ‘lied in public’: there were thousands of such cases. Pejkovic refused to comment on what was said on a meeting he didn’t attend. The defense objected, noting that the Croatian officials were discussing the return of the refugees to the town of Jajce in BH, not to Croatia.

In his examination-in chief, the witness said that the Croatian authorities allowed a large-scale return of the Serbs in 1998, based on the agreement on the normalization of relations with the FRY. This prompted the prosecutor to ask the witness why the return of people who were born and lived all their lives in Croatia depended on the agreement. Croatian authorities requested a ‘two-way return’, that is reciprocity in regard of return of Croats fled from Vojvodina and Kosovo, the witness clarified. As the witness pointed, although the other side agreed, Croats were never allowed to return ‘in a way the Croatian authorities have made it possible for Serbs who fled’.