By Sven Milekic
Damir Krsticevic said on Friday that he is proud of the role that he and the Croatian Army’s Fourth Brigade, which he led, played in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he insisted that they “brought peace and freedom”.
His comments came after the interior ministry in Bosnia’s Serb-led entity Republika Srpska revealed that it has filed criminal complaints to the state prosecutor in Sarajevo accusing Krsticevic and 15 other former high-ranking Croatian officers of war crimes.
Serbian newspaper Vecernje novosti reported that as well as Krsticevic, who is Croatia’s vice-prime minister and as well as its defence minister, the men accused include retired general Ante Gotovina, who was acquitted in 2012 by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia of committing crimes during Croatia’s military operation ‘Storm’.
The ex-officers are accused of committing crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995, during Croatia’s operations ‘Maestral’ and ‘Juzni potez’ (‘Southern Strip’), when 1,644 Serb civilians and soldiers were allegedly killed and around 120,000 people expelled.
Krsticevic responded however that the Bosnian Serb attempt to trigger charges against him and the other Croatian officers was a move by people who never wanted Bosnia and Herzegovinto exist, and who wanted to turn their wartime defeats into victories, destabilising people in Croatia in the process.
“To them, I say that they will fail,” Krsticevic said.
“I served Croatia and today it’s an honour and pride for me to be the defence minister,” he added.
Krsticevic was the commander of the Croatian Army’s Fourth Brigade, which took part in Operation ‘Storm, which defeated rebel Croatian Serbs in August 1995.
Afterwards, the brigade took part in the ‘Maestral’ and ‘Juzni potez’ operations, during which they took territory that had been controlled by the Bosnian Serbs.
The Republika Srpska interior ministry told BIRN that the criminal complaints were filed to the Bosnian prosecutor’s office some time ago.
The prosecutor’s office told BIRN that the Croatian state attorney had been informed of all existing investigations into Croatian citizens back in August 2014.
The prosecution can investigate the Bosnian Serb complaints or decide that there are no grounds for further action.
Vecernje novosti claimed that Krsticevic and the other accused could be arrested and interrogated if they enter Bosnia and Herzegovina.
But Krsticevic said on Friday that he will not cancel a scheduled trip to Bosnia and the Catholic pilgrimage site at Medjugorje.
Krsticevic on Monday cancelled a planned meeting in Sarajevo, which was scheduled for Tuesday.
The Croatian newspaper Jutarnji list claimed that Croatian intelligence agencies advised him not to go.
Krsticevic has dismissed this as speculation, claiming he stayed in Croatia to work on the state budget for the upcoming year.
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Friday said he did not want to comment on the news before it was confirmed.
“We have nothing to fear. The Croatian Army was involved in the liberation of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina from Greater Serbian aggression,” Plenkovic said, adding however that all crimes must be investigated.
Bosnia’s authorities are also investigating Krsticevic’s role in crimes committed in the towns of Jajce and Donji Vakuf in central Bosnia, where the Sarajevo prosecution says 32 civilians and nine Serbian prisoners of war were killed in 1995.
Kristicevic has also been under investigation for years over alleged war crimes committed in the western Bosnian town of Mrkonjic Grad.
Around 150 Serb civilians were killed there when the Croatian Army entered the country and fought Bosnian Serbs in 1995 following Operation Storm.
The arrests of ten Bosnian Croat ex-fighters on war crimes charges on October 31 has already caused a political backlash from Croatian politicians.