Belgrade's High Court has set the start of a war crimes trial for four Croatian Air Force pilots accused of targeting refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina in August 1995 for for 14 October, Croatian state agency Hina said on Wednesday, citing the Serbian news agency Beta, which quoted the Serbian newspaper Politika.
Hina did not report where did Politika source this from.
Serbia’s was crimes prosecutors have indicted four Croatian pilots – Vladimir Mikac, Zdenko Radulj, Zeljko Jelenic, and Danijel Borovic, for allegedly bombing a column of fleeing Serb refugees on the territory of Bosnia close to the Croatian border, during the August 1995 Operation Storm, a large military offensive which saw Croatian military overrun the territory in Croatia held by Serb rebels.
Prosecutors allege that in two separate attacks 13 civilians were killed, including four minors. Although prosecutors asked that they should be tried in absentia, the Belgrade High Court has not yet ruled on that request, Hina said that Beta said that Politika said.
Mikac’s attorney, Aleksandar Olenik, reportedly said that although “it was clear a war crime was committed, and that there is plenty of evidence for it, witnesses and victims confirming that on 7 and 8 August 1995 Croatian planes shelled the refugee column,” in this case “essentially there is no evidence against the four people accused.”
Since the attacks happened on the territory of Bosnia and were allegedly committed by the Croatian military, prosecutors are using the principle of so-called universal jurisdiction, a Serbian legal provision giving the country’s courts the right to prosecute any crimes committed anywhere in the former Yugoslavia.
But Croatia does not recognize this principle. Croatia’s Prime Minister, Andrej Plenkovic, said on Monday that the indictment simply “does not exist” for Croatia.
“Serbia’s jurisdiction in cases concerning alleged crimes committed on the territory of other countries, by nationals of other countries, has been unacceptable to use for years, that is out of the question,” Plenkovic added.
Plenkovic said the indictment was “politically rigged,” that Croatia had been a victim of aggression in the war, insisted that it was a war of liberation, and added that the pilots would be put “under special state care.” Croatian President, Zoran Milanovic, said last week that Serbia “has no right to file such indictments.”
The government announced they would use “every mechanism at their disposal” to protect pilots from Serbia’s accusations. Meanwhile, Croatia has received no official notification from Serbian authorities about indictments against its air force pilots and war veterans.
The four pilots accused have not been informed of the launching of any criminal proceedings, nor interviewed, and there was no such request filed to Croatian authorities.