Former US ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith, accused Croatia of plotting and sanctioning the exodus of Serbs in 1995 to create an "ethnically clean" country.
Peter Galbraith told The Hague war crimes trial of three Croatian generals, that the leadership headed by late President Franjo Tudjman used ‘Operation Storm’ to ‘cleanse’ Croatia of Serbs.
“Croatian authorities either ordered or allowed a mass destruction of the Serb property in former (Serb-held region of) Krajina to prevent the return of the population. I consider that to have been a thought through policy,” he said, testifying at the trial of generals Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, based in The Hague indicted the three for war crimes their troops committed during and after Operation Storm.
Galbraith, who testified on Monday in the presence of a U.S. government representative, said that he and other American officials had information months before Operation Storm that there would be a military attack on the Serb Krajina.
But the U.S. never green-lighted the operation, he contended. However, since the U.S. administration knew the assault might be launched, "it expressly warned the Croatian authorities and president Tuđman of their obligation to protect the Serb civilians and prisoners of war. The atrocities like those committed in the Medak Pocket in 1993 were not to be repeated".
In the first days after the arrival of the Croatian Army in Knin, Galbraith recounted, the reports of the U.S. embassy personnel indicated there were widespread killings of Serb civilians and destruction of their houses, "thus confirming that the situation in the field was exactly what the U.S. administration wanted to prevent".
In Galbraith’s opinion, this happened "on the orders or with the tacit approval of the Croatian leadership, in the presence and with the participation of the military".
However, then Croatian Defense Minister Gojko Šušak "admitted to Galbraith that the Croatian authorities engaged in psychological warfare that partly contributed to the exodus".
When the Serbs left Krajina, the Croatian authorities did everything to prevent them from returning, issuing a decree to confiscate the property of all those who failed to return within thirty days.
Furthermore, their houses were destroyed and their return obstructed in various ways. According to Galbraith, this fit Tuđman’s idea of an ethnically homogenous Croatia.
Whenever they met, the president would emphasize that every country should be ethnically homogenous, adding that local Serbs posed a threat to the homogeneity of the Croatian state.
"He was not ashamed of his views and I wondered how he could imagine that an American would accept his reasoning," Galbraith said, noting that the Croatian president "spoke favorably of the so-called humane transfer of population".
“Croatia was an organized country, its army the most disciplined in former Yugoslavia, and therefore I cannot accept that the illegalities that occurred after Storm were spontaneous,” Galbraith told the court.
He added that had happened because “President Tudjman and people around him wanted it, wishing for an ethnically clean country.”
However, Galbraith said Croatia did not carry out an ethnic cleansing campaign following Operation Storm, because “you could not cleansed those who were not there, but I’m not saying it would have not happened had the population stayed.”
His testimony came as a surprise, since when he testified at the trial of late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2003 Galbraith said Croatia was not responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Serbs.
On Monday Galbraith said he was sorry for saying that because it was understood as his justification for the Croatian army’s actions, which had not been his intention.