While Croatia is celebrating the 17th anniversary of the Storm Operation, Serbs in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are holding services in remembrance of civilians of the former Republic of Serb Krajina in Croatia and of 13 municipalities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, who were victims of attacks of Croatian and Muslim forces. In those attacks, some 2,650 Serbs were killed and some 340,000 expelled. Mladen Bijelic has more.
On 4 August 1995, the Croatian army and police launched the Storm operation by opening artillery fire at the town of Knin, the seat of the Republic of Serb Krajina and mounted synchronized attacks on other Krajina towns as well. Before this territory, which was under UN protection, was attacked, consent and logistic assistance of the USA and Germany, i.e. NATO, was obtained and the day before the attack the NATO aviation destroyed the radar system of Krajina in Plješevica, in the region of Lika. The Storm operation was carried out despite the fact that the day before, at respective meetings in Geneva and Belgrade, the Serbian delegation accepted a plan of the international community (Plan Z-4) for peaceful reintegration into Croatia, in exchange for firm guarantees that the Serb Krajina will not be attacked. The fact that Croatia’s political leadership with Franjo Tuđman at the helm, was not in favour of a peaceful solution and that negotiations with Krajina Serbs on a political solution to the conflict were fake, could be concluded on the basis of ample evidence. The Brioni transcripts, revealed several years later, showed that the Croatian leadership had decided much before to expel Serbs from the regions where they had lived for five centuries! The memoirs of the then Croatian army chief of staff, general Janko Bobetko show that the Storm operation plan was adopted as early as on 25 April 1995 and that the decision on the commencement of the action was made on July 17 in the same year, as proposed by the then commander of the South sector, general Ante Gotovina. Defining the goal of the operation, Croatian president Franjo Tuđman emphasized that such blows should be struck at Serbs as to make them disappear from those regions.
Some 2,000 Serbs were killed or went missing in the Storm operation, while some 220,000 were expelled. The action continued in the neighbouring Bosnia-Herzegovina, under the name of Maestral (breeze), where Croatian armed forces, in cooperation with the Fifth Corps of the Muslim Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina, killed another 655 and expelled some 125,000 Serb civilians. The fact that this co-called military operation contained all the elements of ethnic cleansing and humanitarian catastrophe is confirmed by a report of the Croatian branch of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, which reads that, in the four days, Croatian forces unselectively shelled civilian settlements, where there were no military targets at all, plundering and destroying Serb property. The Croatian aviation also threw bombs at Serb refugees, thereby killing some 400 civilians. The Serbs that remained in the villages – mostly elderly people – were victims to the violence of Croatian soldiers and policemen. Some 400 of those Serb civilians were killed in their own homes, some 700 after the operation, whereas 3,200 were deported to camps. The data of the International Red Cross Committee show that, after the Storm operation was over, less than 8,500 Serbs, mostly elderly people, remained in the territory of the former Republic of Serb Krajina. A report of UN military observers shows that 22,000 Serb houses and other buildings, including churches and historical and cultural monuments, were reduced to rubble in the Storm operation.
No one has been punished for these crimes as the UN Security Council, except for some verbal condemnation, pronounced no sanctions against Croatia and no one has been tried at Croatian courts either for crimes committed during and after the Storm operations. Many Serbs that have tried to return meanwhile were exposed to intimidation and maltreatement and some basic prerequsites for a mass return of Serb expellees have not been resolved yet: security issues, restoration of housing rights, repair of demolished houses, recognition of work services realized in the Republic of Serb Krajina for the purpose of exercise of pension rights, etc.