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
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.
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....
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.