Croat General Gotovina goes on trial for war crimes

Former Croatian General Ante Gotovina goes on trial at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague on Tuesday charged with responsibility for the murder and mistreatment of Serbs in Croatia's Krajina region in 1995. ( Reuters )

Gotovina, who is accused with two other former generals Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac and was indicted in 2001, traveled extensively using false identities before his capture in Spain's Canary Islands in December 2005.

Prosecutors say during the 1995 "Operation Storm" to retake Krajina from Serb rebels in the last months of fighting, Gotovina's troops murdered at least 37 ethnic Serbs, torched villages and stabbed and burned those trying to flee.

"Soldiers opened fire on groups of civilians. Persons were shot while fleeing their homes. Dead bodies were strewn along roads. Persons were observed being shot at point-blank range and killed execution-style, and many persons had to look on while family members were killed," the indictment states.

Gotovina, the overall commander of the offensive, knew of the mistreatment but failed to prevent the crimes or punish the perpetrators, according to prosecutors.

All three accused, who have pleaded not guilty, are charged with participating in a joint criminal enterprise that aimed to permanently remove the Serb population from the Krajina region by force, persecution and destruction of property.

Gotovina, a 52-year-old former French Foreign Legionnaire, was the court's last wanted war crimes suspect from Croatia.

His arrest has helped ease Zagreb's path to joining the European Union, which was long skeptical about how hard Zagreb was trying to hunt a man many Croats consider a national hero.

His trial will be shown live on Croatian state television.

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