ZAGREB, Croatia March 24 —
A former Croatian army general was convicted and sentenced to 12
years in prison Monday for masterminding the slayings of dozens of
Serb civilians early in Croatia's 1991 war for independence.
Maj. Gen. Mirko Norac, 35, is the most senior Croatian army
officer convicted for war crimes in a Croatian court.
The trial, which lasted nearly two years, was one of just a few
domestic proceedings to prosecute Croat wartime atrocities. It
tested the Croatian judiciary's capability and willingness to handle
such a sensitive national issue.
The ruling immediately triggered protests from war veterans, who
gathered in front of the district court in Rijeka in northwestern
Croatia to insist that Norac and other Croat fighters were national
heroes, not criminals.
Norac's subordinate, Tihomir Oreskovic, received a 15-year prison
term Monday. Although Norac was the local commander at the time in
the central city of Gospic, where the killings occurred, most
witnesses claimed Oreskovic held de facto command of the area.
An ex-soldier, Stjepan Granic, was sentenced to 10 years in
prison in the same case, and another, Ivica Rozic, was acquitted of
The maximum penalty was 20 years in prison.
The slaughter at Gospic is one of the dark episodes of Croatia's
side of the war.
Norac and Oreskovic were accused of commanding the killings in
the city 90 miles southwest of Zagreb in October 1991. At least 50
people, mainly Serb civilians, were dragged from homes, shelters and
workplaces and executed in fields outside the city, Monday's ruling
The trial has forced Croats most of whom still insist that only
Serbs committed war crimes to confront the atrocities of their
The war erupted when country's Serbs, backed by the Yugoslav
army, took up arms in mid-1991 to oppose the country's independence
from Yugoslavia. Thousands of Croats were killed and expelled as
rebels seized a third of the country. The war ended four years later
when Zagreb recaptured those areas.
The defendants insisted they played no role in the killings and
claimed they were merely defending Gospic from Serb assaults.
Croatia's pro-Western government, which took power three years
ago, has cooperated with the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague,
Netherlands, in its investigations of Croat wartime atrocities.
Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This
material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or