By Fawn Vrazo, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
POSTED: September 13, 1995
GRUBORI, Croatia — Farm animals wander through this once-vibrant hamlet. Goats badly in need of milking stand on porches. Starving pigs root through trash. Donkeys bray in the gardens, while distressed sheep huddle against stone walls. The air is filled with constant wailing from hungry cats.
When winter comes, the animals probably will die. Like the people.
Grubori's human residents are all dead or departed. Six were killed late last month in a massacre that is being shrugged off in Croatia as one of war's mishaps.
On one bloody day, Aug. 25, Milos Grubor, an 80-year-old invalid, was shot behind his ear and in his back as he lay in bed in his pajamas. Jovo Grubor, 65, was found in a field with his throat either slashed or destroyed by an exploding bullet. Duro Karanovic, 41, and Mika Grubor, 51, were found shot through the head in another field. The charred body of Marija Grubor, 90, was found in her torched house. A sixth resident, Jovan-Damjan Grubor, 73, is missing and believed to be buried somewhere under the roof of his collapsed home.
No one knows or is saying who killed the residents of Grubori. But there are strong suspicions.
The six all were Serbs - residents of the rebellious Serb Krajina area of Croatia that was retaken by the Croatian army early last month. Tens of thousands of Krajina residents fled the area as Croatian soldiers moved in, leaving behind only small pockets of mostly-elderly Serbs, such as the last residents of Grubori.
Croatian officials in the capital, Zagreb, say there was never any need for the area's Serbian residents to flee. Officially, they have invited them to return.
But U.N. officials say that, in fact, a campaign of terror is sweeping the hamlets that are the heart and soul of Krajina.
In the month since the army offensive ended, U.N. observers say, the Serbs who stayed behind have been threatened and harassed by Croatian soldiers and other Croats. Their homes are being looted and then set ablaze, and they are being forced to turn over their few possessions of value - money, liquor, food - to wandering groups of men in soldiers' uniforms.
Others have not been as lucky as that. There are no estimates of the number of Serbs, such as the residents of Grubori, found slain in the last few weeks. But U.N. reports contain instance after instance of elderly Serbs being killed.
"Heinous crimes against the remaining Serb minority are being detected," says one U.N. report dated Sept. 1. It goes on to describe one Serbian hamlet, Radinovic, where five residents aged 55 to 70 were found shot to death. One of the bodies was decapitated - the head found in a pigsty.
Sitting in the ornate president's palace in Zagreb, government spokeswoman Vesna Skare-Ozbolt last week expressed Croatia's official line on the burnings and killings: They are caused by Serbs themselves.
Some of the shootings occurred as rebel Serb soldiers exchanged fire with Croatian army forces, she said, and houses were being burned by "Serb paramilitary refugees who came back."
House-burning "is not Croatian policy," Skare-Ozbolt said. "We need every house."
U.N. officials scoff at the explanation. "Serb irregulars in the hills are coming down at night to burn their own homes?" said U.N. spokesman Christopher Gunness in Zagreb. "We think that is a straightforward lie, and we have direct evidence of the Croatian army actually doing this."
"Whether it's sanctioned from above is difficult to say, but we've seen Croatian soldiers looting under the noses" of the Croatian police, Gunness said last week.
Though part of Croatia, the Krajina has been a predominantly Serbian area for hundreds of years, established as a Christian outpost to resist the military advances of the Ottoman Empire Turks.
Krajina's roots were its hamlets - small, village-like communities where residents usually bore the same surname, such as Grubor in Grubori, handed down from tribal times hundreds of years ago. Hamlets were more than isolated communities. Even after residents moved to the city to work or go to school, they routinely returned to their hamlets for weekends and vacations. They retired there.
"You destroy the hamlet, and the roots of culture are destroyed," U.N. spokesman Alun Roberts said in Knin, the capital of Krajina.
Roberts has had a busy time in the last few weeks, driving the rocky mountain roads around Knin to assess the safety of elderly Serbs living in their nearly deserted communities. He sees so many house fires that it has become routine. One was set Sunday in an abandoned Serbian home just a few hundred yards from the United Nations' Knin outpost.
As Roberts arrived to investigate, a furious Croatian soldier rushed up with a rifle in his hand. He said his own family had been harassed by Serbs. In fact, Serbian terrorizing and killing of Croatian residents of Krajina was widespread in 1991, when Croatia declared its independence from the former Yugoslavia and Krajina declared itself a Serbian republic.
Many believe the new house burnings and killings are the Croats' revenge.
"You have nothing to do here!" the soldier, a man in his 20s or 30s with choppy black hair, shouted at Roberts and other U.N. investigators. "Why was no one here to report my mother was beaten, my house was burned? Just get out!"
Grubori was established more than 600 years ago by a Serbian tribe. Until it was destroyed last month, it was an idyllic rural community, ancient in some ways but modern in others.
Its 50-some residents lived in attractive stone houses with red tile roofs and thick wooden beams. With their animals, gardens, vineyards and graceful terraced pastures, they produced their own milk, meat, vegetables, fruit, eggs and cheese. Each family made its own wine and brandy.
A typical day, said Marija Grubor, 65, was "first in the morning going to the animals and feeding them, and then going to the fields." One of the hamlet's last surviving residents, she now lives in a U.N. refugee camp in Knin.
The hamlet's residents also had televisions, refrigerators and radios. There were a handful of modern homes, built by younger natives of the hamlet who were planning to retire there some day.
But any hope for Grubori's future died when the Croatian army retook Krajina. Most residents fled, either to Serbia or to U.N. refugee camps. Just 13 people were living there by late August, and they had stayed only out of concern for the hamlet's many farm animals.
"They are living creatures. You can't give up on them," said another of Grubori's survivors, Jovan Grubor, 68.
On Aug. 25, Jovan Grubor, Marija Grubor and five other Grubori residents were at a school in a nearby hamlet checking on the papers they would need if they, too, decided to leave.
According to a U.N. report, six of the seven "saw soldiers in two locations approaching Grubori . . . dressed in camouflage dark green uniforms (and) speaking non-Serbian dialects." U.N. workers themselves saw "six to eight blue Croatian policija jeeps and about three larger white vans" parked on a road near the hamlet. The vehicles struck the U.N. workers as odd since they were unattended.
Plumes of smoke were seen rising from the area of Grubori, and residents and U.N. workers went to the hamlet to find 18 of its houses in flames. The five bodies were found that day and the next.
Marija Grubor discovered the body of Milos Grubor, shot twice in his second-story bedroom. Thick, dried blood still stains the bedroom floor.
Jovan Grubor helped drag the throatless body of Jovo Grubor from a field into a son's house. On Monday, Jovan Grubor returned to Grubori to dig forlornly and silently through the rubble in the collapsed home of his lifetime neighbor and friend, Jovan-Damjan Grubor, looking for his remains.
The Croatian army's explanation of the Grubori deaths came in an Aug. 31 letter sent to U.N. officials by Lt. Gen. Ivan Cermak. It said that Croatian army forces were in an action in the area on Aug. 25 to "destroy dispersed enemy raiders and terrorists," and that Duro Karanovic, who carried a gun, was one of those killed.
"Due to armed clashes and the use of bazookas, several barns and houses caught fire, resulting in deaths of two unidentified women and two elderly men . . . who succumbed to trajectory wounds," the letter said.
"The Croatian army has been strictly instructed to protect civilians during fighting and in any other circumstance," Cermak said in the letter. ''I am confident that had the renegades decided to surrender, we could have prevented the tragedy."
Journalist Testifies About Grubori Killings
UN employee said he filmed footage which could prove Croatian forces were involved in ethnic cleasing.
By Goran Jungvirth - International Justice - ICTY TRI Issue 569, 19 Sep 08
A United Nations journalist this week told judges that he found the bodies of elderly victims apparently shot at close range in a village after a Croatian military operation.
The journalist – who was employed by the UN to record what was happening in the region –
said he filmed the corpses of the elderly men, which he came across in the village of Grubori after the Operation Storm offensive in 1995.
He told the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague that when he spoke to Croatian general Ivan Cermak later that day, he denied the victims had been killed at close range, and said his soldiers had been carrying out an “anti-terrorist operation”.
Cermak, the former commander of the Croatian garrison in Knin, is standing trial alongside two other Croatian generals – Ante Gotovina, who was in charge of Operation Storm, and Mladen Markac, the commander of special police units.
They are charged with crimes committed by their troops during and after the four-day offensive, which retook an area held by Serb rebels from 1991.
While prosecutors do not dispute Croatia’s right to reintegrate the Krajina region within its internationally recognised borders, they condemn the tactics used which they say left behind “a scarred wasteland of destroyed villages and homes”.
According to indictment, Croatian forces killed six elderly people in the village of Grubori –whch lies in the Plavno valley of Krajina – including some who could not move and were shot in their beds.
This week, Richard Linton – then a UN employee who was tasked with filming events unfolding in Krajina – said that on August 25, 1995, he was in the region interviewing those Serbs who had remained in their homes in the Plavno valley after Operation Storm.
He then saw smoke coming from Grubori and discovered that several houses there were on fire, he said.
The next day, he went to the village, where he came across a number of corpses. He said he filmed the bodies, which included a man who had been shot in the head and another whose throat had been slit.
“People, this couple, said to us that the Ustase were responsible for that,” said Linton in a previous statement he made to the prosecution – the summary of which was read out in court this week.
Ustase, a term for Nazi collaborators during World War Two, is used by some Serbs to refer to Croatian ultra-nationalists.
“I don’t know whether they were talking about Croatian police or military, but that couple said that Croatians – people in Croatian uniforms with Croatian emblems – were responsible,” said Linton in the statement.
The witness said he taped the conversation with the couple. He added that six out of around 20 houses in the village had been set alight.
Linton said he interviewed Cermak that same day and told him about the dead men.
However, Cermak denied the victims had been killed at close range, saying his soldiers had been carrying out an “anti-terrorist operation”.
The witness confirmed that Cermak said he would go to Grubori to investigate. However, he said that he never checked if the general had kept his promise.
Linton said he sent his footage from Grubori immediately to the UN office in the Croatian capital Zagreb, because according to him, the material had the potential to show that Croatian forces were carrying out ethnic cleansing.
“For me, as a journalist, this was a perfect story. I had proof, as well as the local commander [Cermak] denying it,” said the witness.
During cross-examination, Cermak’s defence tried to show their client was not responsible for what went on in the town. While Cermak commanded Knin’s garrison, they said, the civilian authorities under the interior ministry were responsible for order in the town and the surrounding area.
Gillian Higgins, Cermak’s lawyer, suggested that Linton was not familiar with Cermak’s mandate at the time.
“Is it true that you … never found out what [Cermak] was responsible for and what his duties were?” she asked.
“Yes,” replied Linton.
Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR-trained journalist in Zagreb.
23 Jan 13
Croatian President ‘Ordered Attack on Village’
A former Croatian special police commander told a Zagreb war crimes trial that President Franjo Tudjman’s office ordered the notorious attack on Grubori in 1995.
“The order to conduct the ‘Knin 95’ action didn’t come from me, but from the office of the president. The police set me up because of political persecution,” said former Croatian special police commander Zeljko Sacic at the trial in Zagreb on Tuesday.
He added that the order was signed by Croatian general Mile Cuk.
Sacic was testifying in the case against two special police force officers charged with war crimes committed in Grubori near the town of Knin in Croatia’s Krajina region on August 25 and 26, 1995.
Frano Drlje and Bozidar Krajina are charged with killing five elderly Serbs.
The murders are among the best-known war crimes perpetrated by Croatian forces during the country's 1991-1995 conflict.
They took place 20 days after Serb rule in the Krajina region was crushed by the Croatian army’s ‘Operation Storm’.
Fighting had come to an end, but police entered the village, shot dead five civilians, some of them in their beds, and burned the village.
Sasic is also currently under investigation for covering up the crimes in Grubori but prosecutors have separated his case from the one against Drlje and Krajina.
Previous witnesses in the case have claimed that Sacic forged military reports from Grubori, in which the police claimed they didn’t attack civilians, insisting instead that the deaths were the result of a battle.
Ivan Zvonimir Cicak, head of the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, said that Sasic came to the village 24 hours after the attack and ordered fighters to put weapons in the hands of dead civilians.
Sacic denied that he forged the military reports, adding that he was ordered to go to the village by Mladen Markac, a Croatian general acquitted of war crimes charges by the Hague Tribunal in November.
“We later found out that a war crime took place in Grubori and that civilians were killed. I came to Grubori on the order of Mladen Markac to see what was happening,” said Sacic.
Sacic added that he later found out from the Hague prosecution that the police lied in the initial report in which it was said that there were no civilians in the village and that there was a battle.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, indicted Markac and Ivan Cermak, then the Croatian military governor of the Knin area, for the Grubori killings.
The ICTY released Cermak in April 2011, declaring that he could not be held accountable for failing to prevent the crimes or punishing the perpetrators, although he had been involved in a media cover-up.
Markac was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment, partly for war crimes in Grubori, but acquitted on appeal last November.
The trial resumes on January 28.
THE HAGUE | 22.04.2010.
NOT A WORD ABOUT GRUBORI
Bozo Krajina, witness at the Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac trial
Former member of the special police Bozo Krajina exercised his right not to answer any questions about the murder of elderly Serbs in the village of Grubori. Krajina contends that truthful answers might compromise his position in a Croatian court, where Krajina is charged with covering up that crime. The Trial Chamber has now called all its witnesses but the trial of generals Gotovina, Cermak and Markac is not over yet. The prosecution was granted request to reopen its case
Based on the choice of witnesses called by the Trial Chamber, most of the unresolved issues after the prosecution and defense cases at the trial of generals Gotovina, Cermak and Markac concern the murder of five elderly persons in the village of Grubori on 25 August 1995. The Trial Chamber called seven witnesses: four of them were direct or indirect participants in the mop-up operation in the Plavno Valley when the incident occurred. One of the Trial Chamber’s witnesses gave evidence in closed session.
Bozo Krajina, leader of one of the four groups of the Croatian special police that carried out the mop-up operation in the Plavno Valley, gave evidence today. Together with Zeljko Sacic, deputy of the special police commander Mladen Markac, Krajina is charged with covering up the crime in the village of Grubori by the Croatian judiciary. At the beginning of his evidence, the presiding judge instructed Krajina he was not obliged to provide answers that might adversely influence his defense in a Croatian court. As additional precaution, Krajina was appointed defense counsel, Suzana Tomanovic, who was granted permission to counsel her client during the entire examination.
It became clear that the witness would exercise his right to refrain from responding to questions that might incriminate him when he was asked the first specific question about the events in the village of Grubori. The witness first refused to answer Judge Orie what his special police group found on 25 August 1995 in Grubori. The witness then proceeded to refuse to answer any questions related to the drafting, or ‘fabrication’ of reports after the mop-up operation. Several of Krajina’s fellow fighters from the special police had already testified about it.
Despite their right to do so, the judges decided not to order Krajina to reply to those questions. The presiding judge only concluded that the witness ‘fears that the correct and true answer may incriminate him’.
In the end, Bozo Krajina testified only about the incident in the village of Ramljani where houses were torched on 26 August 1995. In his replies to the judges, the prosecution and Markac’s defense, Krajina said that after the action he saw smoke rising from the direction of the village but didn’t know who set the houses on fire. He did confirm what several previous witnesses had claimed, that General Markac stopped the special police on their way back from the village of Ramljani; he was angry and told them that they ‘shouldn’t burn down the houses’ adding that they ‘should all be arrested’ and ‘recalled to Zagreb’. In the end, the special police were not arrested but they were recalled to Zagreb. The witness recounted that one of the group leaders, Frano Drlje, came out of the ranks and stood before the special police commander. Drlje told Markac, ‘I did it and there’s nothing you can do about it’. Markac obviously either couldn’t do or didn’t want to do anything as Drlje was neither disciplined nor processed for torching the houses in the village of Ramljani.
The last witness of the Trial Chamber thus completed his evidence at the trial of the Croatian generals. The trial is not yet over: the parties were told today that the judges had granted leave to the prosecution to reopen its case. The motion had been filed under seal. The prosecution indicated it could not call its first witnesses before 17 May 2010 due to logistic problems, but the testimony might be postponed even further because Ivan Cermak’s defense announced it would appeal the Trial Chamber’s decision.
THE HAGUE | 21.04.2011.
THE JUDGMENT FOR THE CROATIAN GENERALS (4)
’LIMITED RESULTS’ OF INVESTIGATIONS INTO CRIMES AFTER OPERATION STORM
The judgment of generals Gotovina, Cermak and Markac highlights the omissions in the investigations of crimes after Operation Storm as another indicator of the existence of a joint criminal enterprise whose goal was to expel Serbs from Krajina. The emphasis was placed on the crime in the village of Grubori. The Croatian special police murdered a number of civilians in the village; their commanders then invented a story about a clash with ‘terrorists’
In addition to analyzing the plans for the military attack on Krajina and measures adopted afterwards to prevent the return of Serb refugees, the Trial Chamber focused in particular to what happened in Operation Storm and its immediate aftermath it in its findings on the joint criminal enterprise. The judgment of the Croatian generals states that an indiscriminate artillery attack on civilians started on the first day of the operation, 4 August 1995. When the Croatian Army and the special police entered the occupied territory, the abandoned houses were destroyed, and civilians were murdered, subjected to inhumane treatment and deported.
Those crimes were not adequately investigated and punished. In a separate chapter of the judgment on the joint criminal enterprise, the Trial Chamber puts forth its conclusions about the causes of the ‘inadequate response’ of the Croatian law enforcement and judiciary to the events in the field. Having considered the attitudes of the Croatian authorities towards the investigations, the judges brought up the first part of the evidence of former Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Elizabeth Rehn. As she said, President Franjo Tudjman told her that it was impossible to ‘keep the gloves on’ in a fight and to prevent the Croatian returnees from committing acts of revenge and destroying Serb houses. The Trial Chamber also invoked the report of the UN Secretary-General of 14 February 1996, which notes that ‘[t]he discrepancy […] between the number of apparent violations of the right to life recorded by United Nations investigators in the former Sectors and the number of cases acknowledged by the Croatian authorities continues to be unaccountably large' and insists that except in the massacre of nine Serbs at Varivode, 'there is little evidence of progress in resolving the many other reported cases of individual killings' of civilians.
When Krajina was liberated, the Croatian authorities cleaned up the terrain. A number of Serbs who had been killed were buried without any sort of investigation into how they had died. The Trial Chamber doesn’t contend that the purpose of the sanitation effort was to cover up the crimes. However, there were a number of omissions in the way the investigations were conducted. Mladen Bajic, who was the Deputy Military Prosecutor for the Split Military District (he is now the Croatian Public Prosecutor), corroborated this conclusion when he testified that about the 300 bodies disinterred at the Knin cemetery in 2001; most of the bodies were buried after Operation Storm without an on-site investigation.
The judges accepted the defense argument that the lack of investigations was caused by objective circumstances, such as work force shortage and lack of equipment, dire conditions in the war and a large number of crimes. The judgment notes there were attempts to deliberately obstruct investigations in some cases, but there was no evidence that the there was a policy pursued by the Croatian authorities not to investigate crimes. Since some – not many – crimes were prosecuted, the Trial Chamber concluded that ‘some investigatory efforts were made, but with relatively few results’ and they ‘were motivated at least in part by a concern for Croatia’s international standing rather than by genuine concern for victims'.
A typical example of a deliberate obstruction of the investigation is the chain of events following the murder of five elderly Serbs in the Krajina village of Grubori on 25 August 1995. The number of witnesses testifying about this incident greatly exceeded all other evidence for crimes listed in the indictment. Based on the evidence of the police commanders and the special police personnel, the Trial Chamber concluded that after the elderly persons were killed, the special police leadership invented a story about the clash with ‘Serb terrorists’.
This finding was corroborated by the evidence of Josip Celic, who was in charge of the clean-up operation in the Plavno Valley. The incident in the village of Grubori occurred during the operation. Although Celic tried to recant parts of his statement to the OTP investigators, the Trial Chamber in its judgment gave credence to Celic’s claims that in his report to his superiors he said clearly there had been no fighting in the clean-up operation. Celic was then summoned to Gracac where Mladen Markac and his deputy Zeljko Sacic told Celic there had been an ‘armed conflict’ in Grubori. Celic was told to draft a new report, which was dictated to him by Sacic in an adjacent room. The terrorist story was further corroborated in August and September 1995 when other members of the Special Police backdated their reports on the orders of Markac and Sacic, confirming the details as they had been dictated to Celic, the judgment concluded.
After three years in which the prosecution and the defense called their evidence, the Trial Chamber found that the Croatian Special Police were responsible, beyond reasonable doubt, for the murders in the village of Grubori.
MARCH 29, 2012 | 14:44
Croatia: War crimes suspect commits suicide
ZAGREB -- Internal police investigation has shown that Igor Beneta, one of the suspects in the massacre of six elderly Serbs near Knin in August 1995, committed suicide.
The Croatian police launched the investigation after certain media started speculating that Beneta was murdered based on the way his body was found and identified.
Croatia’s Interior Minister Ranko Ostojić told reporters on Thursday ahead of the government session that the investigation determined that Beneta had committed suicide by hanging.
Aside from Beneta, Lučko Anti-Terrorist Unit Commanders Franjo Drljo and Božidar Krajina are also charged with the massacre of six elderly Serbs in late August 1995 in the village of Grubori and burning down almost all houses in the village.
The trial started in November 2011. The authorities were unaware that Beneta was dead so he was tried in absentia until it was confirmed that he had committed suicide