Medak Pocket bat­tle ‘a myth’

A for­mer Croa­t­ian gen­eral says Canada’s big­gest bat­tle since the Korean War — the strug­gle to save eth­nic Serbs from ma­raud­ing Croa­t­ian troops — never hap­pened, writes. DAVID PUGLIESE

Ottawa Citizen - - Canada -

A1993 bat­tle in the Balkans, which earned Cana­dian troops top hon­ours from the gov­er­nor gen­eral and credit for stand­ing up to Croat forces in­tent on killing in­no­cent civil­ians, never took place, claims a for­mer Croa­t­ian se­nior of­fi­cer.

Tes­ti­fy­ing at the trial of two fel­low of­fi­cers ac­cused of war crimes, re­tired gen­eral Da­vor Do­mazet-Loso sug­gested Cana­dian troops fight­ing at Medak Pocket may have in­stead killed Serb troops since at no point did the Croa­t­ian army en­gage in com­bat with the United Na­tions force.

But the Cana­dian com­man­der at the time calls Mr. Do­mazet-Loso’s claims an at­tempt to re­write his­tory, adding his men knew ex­actly where Croat forces were lo­cated when the fight­ing started.

“We knew who we were fir­ing at,” re­tired colonel Jim Calvin said. “And the Croats knew ex­actly where we were. They’re just try­ing to re-cre­ate his­tory. I have no con­trol over that.”

The fight­ing at Medak Pocket was con­sid­ered at the time to be the largest bat­tle the Cana­dian army had fought since the Korean War. Cana­dian and other UN troops were cred­ited with stand­ing their ground against Croa­t­ian forces in­tent on “eth­nic cleans­ing” Serb civil­ians in the area.

The war crimes trial of two for­mer Croa­t­ian gen­er­als in­volved in op­er­a­tions in Medak Pocket started sev­eral months ago in the Croa­t­ian cap­i­tal of Za­greb.

Rahim Ademi and Mirko No­rac are ac­cused of al­low­ing their troops to tor­ture and kill Serb civil­ians. The in­dict­ment al­leges forces un­der their con­trol killed 28 civil­ians and five pris­on­ers of war near the town of Gospic in Septem­ber 1993. The

Cit­i­zen broke the story about the Medak Pocket bat­tle in 1996 and the House of Com­mons later heard tes­ti­mony from Cana­dian sol­diers who took part in the fight­ing.

In 2002, then-gov­er­nor gen­eral Adri­enne Clark­son pre­sented the Com­man­derin-Chief Unit Com­men­da­tion to the 2nd Bat­tal­ion, Princess Pa­tri­cia’s Cana­dian Light In­fantry for its ac­tions against the Croa­t­ian army and its at­tempts to stop that force from killing Ser­bian civil­ians and de­stroy­ing vil­lages in Medak.

The dec­o­ra­tion rec­og­nized “the out­stand­ing ser­vice of Cana­dian Forces in times of con­flict un­der di­rect en­emy fire.”

But Mr. Do­mazet-Loso, in charge of the Croa­t­ian gen­eral staff ’s intelligence ser­vice at the time, said there was never any con­fronta­tion with the UN.

“It is com­pletely un­clear to me what the award­ing of 800 Cana­dian medals means, which were handed out for, they say, the big­gest bat­tle since the Korean War in 1953,” he told the war crimes trial. “In the ex­pla­na­tion they said that they had killed 26 Croats in that bat­tle. Since this is not true, I won­der if their vic­tims were Serbs.”

He de­scribed Mr. Calvin as ex­cep­tion­ally ar­ro­gant and said the Cana­dian of­fi­cer de­scribed the Croa­t­ian army as crim­i­nal. He also claimed there were many Serbs in the ranks of the Cana­dian unit.

Mr. Calvin said he doesn’t re­call meet­ing Mr. Do­mazetLoso, who was then a colonel, and he shrugs off the claim he was ar­ro­gant. But Mr. Calvin read­ily agrees he may have de­scribed the ac­tions of the Croa­t­ian army as crim­i­nal, par­tic­u­larly af­ter his troops found ev­ery sin­gle build­ing in Medak Pocket de­stroyed and the bod­ies of civil­ians who had been killed by Croa­t­ian forces.

“As Cana­di­ans, we be­lieve sol­diers fight against sol­diers and you don’t kill in­no­cent civil­ians,” he said.

The Cana­dian troops took video footage of burn­ing build­ings and dead vil­lagers to sup­port ev­i­dence of Croa­t­ian war crimes.

The dead, in­clud­ing el­derly res­i­dents, had been shot in the back of the head, had their throats slit or were blud­geoned to death.

“We’re talk­ing about Croa­t­ian cit­i­zens of Ser­bian de­scent that were eth­ni­cally cleansed,” Mr. Calvin pointed out. “Some of them had that land in their fam­i­lies for as much as 300 years.”

Mr. Calvin also said it was the Croa­t­ian me­dia that re­ported UN forces had killed or wounded 26 Croa­t­ian sol­diers. He added he didn’t think there were any Ser­bian- Cana­di­ans serv­ing in his unit.

The trial has also heard claims that Mr. Do­mazetLoso played a key role in the Medak Pocket op­er­a­tion.

The lawyer for Mr. Ademi — one of the ac­cused — has in­tro­duced a war log that showed Mr. Do­mazet-Loso had or­dered ar­tillery at­tacks on the town of Korenica.

The lawyer is us­ing that in his ar­gu­ment that Mr. Ademi’s author­ity as a com­man­der had been sub­stan­tially cut. One wit­ness, for­mer Croa­t­ian army chief of staff Petar Stipetic, has tes­ti­fied that Mr. Ademi de­manded an end to the torch­ing of vil­lages and loot­ing go­ing on at the time.

Mr. Stipetic also said the UN forces warned that houses were be­ing torched and robbed and Mr. Ademi was an­gry to hear that was tak­ing place.

Mr. Stipetic sug­gested Mr. Do­mazet-Loso was in charge.

“Judg­ing by the war log, all pow­ers at Gospic area were given to Gen. Do­mazet and not Rahim Ademi,” he tes­ti­fied.

The trial is seen by in­ter­na­tional ob­servers as a test of Croa­tia’s le­gal sys­tem and comes at a time when the coun­try is mak­ing a bid to join the Euro­pean Union.

Two years ago, the UN’s In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Tri­bunal for the for­mer Yu­goslavia, based in The Hague, trans­ferred the case to Croa­tia.

Mr. Ademi turned him­self in to the UN in 2001.

Mr. No­rac is in prison af­ter be­ing sen­tenced by a Croa­t­ian court to 12 years on other charges re­gard­ing war crimes against eth­nic Serbs.

PHOTO COUR­TESY LT.-COL. JIM CALVIN

There was no an­nounce­ment in 1993 when Cana­dian troops fought their big­gest battle in 40 years in Croa­tia. Pic­tured are mem­bers of Pla­toon 8, Char­lie Com­pany, Princess Pa­tri­cia's Cana­dian Light In­fantry in the Medak Pocket: (back row,from left) Pte....

PHO­TOS BY HRVOJE POLAN, REUTERS

For­mer gen­er­als Rahim Ademi, left, and Mirko No­rac are ac­cused of let­ting their troops tor­ture and kill eth­nic Serb civil­ians in 1993. Ev­i­dence in their trial points to Da­vor Do­mazet-Loso as a key player in the Medak Pocket con­flict.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.