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Days of suffering of Serbs Croatia for 25 years celebrates as victory: Operation Storm anniversary

The military-police operation began at dawn on August 4, 1995, and over the next three days, Croatian forces killed at least 1,800 Serbs and expelled 250,000 of them.

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Operacia Oluja

Photo: Profimedia,Youtube/International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

This year like in the previous 25, Serbia and Croatia, each in their own way, are marking the anniversary of the military-police Operation Storm. While Zagreb celebrates this day as Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day and Veterans Day, in Serbia it is marked as one of the saddest events in history, by remembering the victims and people expelled from their homes during that action.

Due to the situation with coronavirus in the country, Serbia had to cancel a commemoration dedicated to the victims of persecution, so this year, instead of a mass event, a memorial will be erected at Sremska Raca, through which a convoy of Serb refugees entered the country in August 1995.

"We will mark it, as every year, but this time without the presence of a large number of people. We will mark it where we did that together for the first time in 2015, at the Raca (border) crossing, where we will set up a memorial," President Vucic said last week.

Operation Storm began on August 4, with Serbs hastily gathering their belongings and fleeing

The military-police action began at dawn on August 4, 1995, and during the next three days, Croatian forces killed at least 1,800 Serbs and expelled 250,000, after which they established control over the territory of then Republic of Serb Krajina (RSK).

On that August morning, the Krajina Serbs only had the time to quickly gather their basic belongings, get into tractors and start fleeing the attacks of the Croatian army.

As a result of Operation Storm, a wave of refugees started from the territory of RSK, coming under attack by Croatian artillery and air force as they were fleeing toward Serbia and the Serb Republic

During those three days, 250,000 people left their homes and tried to find salvation by reaching Serbia and the Serb Republic. Although they knew that these were civilians, the Croatian artillery and air force carried out constant attacks against the refugee column.

The refugees were not allowed to enter Belgrade, but only to pass along Arsenija Carnojevica Boulevard, while only some civilians remained in Krajina, exposed to terror even after the formal end of Operation Storm on August 7.

The military action was carried out despite the fact that the area was under UN protection as sectors "South" and "North" and that RSK representatives in Geneva and Belgrade accepted international community's proposal for a peaceful solution to the conflict the day before.

In the continuation of the operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), called Operation Maestral, Croat and Muslim forces killed another 655 and expelled about 125,000 Serbs from Bosnia and Herzegovina itself.

Tudjman issues order to "inflict such a blow to Serbs, to make them practically disappear"

The military-police Operation Storm was the epilogue of a planned crime of the regime of Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. It was preceded by a meeting that Tudjman held on July 31, 1995 with military officers in Brijuni, where he issued an order to "inflict such a blow to Serbs, to make them practically disappear."

"Close the remaining three doors to them, but don't give them a way to get out, to escape, force them to fight to the end. To inflict such blows so that Serbs practically disappear," Tudjman said at the time, according to transcripts from that meeting, which were one of the main pieces of evidence at a later war crimes trial before the Hague Tribunal.

According to official data, 1,861 people died during Operation Storm

The Veritas Documentation and Information Center says that according to their records, 1,861 Serbs were killed or went missing during and after Operation Storm. Most of those killed and missing were civilians - 1,211, while three-quarters of them were over 60 years old. Among the victims were 548 women, of whom about four-fifths were over 60 years old.

Operacija Oluja, rat u Hrvatskoj

Printscreen: Youtube/International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

Out of the total number of victims, the fate of 1,084 people has been clarified so far, while another 777 people are on the Veritas list of missing persons, of which 588 are civilians, including 295 women.

The Hague tribunal first convicts, then releases those who commanded the persecution operation

The Hague-based war crimes tribunal was preparing an indictment against Tudjman for war crimes committed during operations Flash ("Bljesak") and Storm ("Oluja"), but he died in 1999. Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac were put on trial before The Hague for forming a "joint criminal enterprise with with the aim of permanently and forcibly expelling the largest portion of the Serb population from the territory of the former Republic of Serb Krajina in Croatia."

Ante Gotovina, who was the commander of the operation, was in 2011 sentenced to 24 years, and Mladen Markac to 18 years in prison, while Ivan Cermak was acquitted.

Ante Gotovina Mladen Markac

Photo: HRVOJE POLAN/AFP/Profimedia

However, in the second instance verdict, the former Croatian generals were acquitted, and the Croatian authorities denied accusations of carrying out ethnic cleansing, claiming that it was a legitimate military operation against the rebels.

The Hague tribunal unsealed the indictment in July 2001, and in November 2012, the Appellate Chamber acquitted the Croatian generals, overturning the first-instance verdict, after which the two were released, with the final explanation that Operation Storm was not a joint criminal enterprise to expel Serbs from the Knin Krajina.

Video: A plate of soup was left on my table - a moving testimony of a Knin refugee

(J.N./Telegraf.rs/Telegraf.co.uk)

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