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Balkans: Croatia celebrates, Serbs mourn on anniversary of operation “Storm”

last update: August 04, 17:26

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Zagreb/Belgrade 4 Aug. (AKI) - Croatia on Thursday celebrated the 16th anniversary of military operation “Storm” which crushed a Serb rebellion and sparked exodus of some 200,000 Serbs, while Serbia commemorated victims of what it calls the worst ethnic cleansing in Europe after World War Two.

Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor said operation “Storm” was a “brilliant military action” and a great victory which re-united the country. “The Day of Victory we celebrate in peace and freedom, taking our place in the European family of states and nations,” Kosor said.

Serbiaian president Boris Tadic said the anniversary was a date of “sorrow and remembrance”. Justice has been partly served by the fact that Gotovina and Markac were in jail, but a lot more remained to be done, he added.

Tadic attended a commemoration in Belgrade’s St. Mark church for the victims of the operation “Storm”. Religious rites were held by the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church patriarch Irinej.

Croatian forces launched an offensive on self-proclaimed Republic of Serb Krajina on August 4, 1995 and in only two days re-conquered a third of its territory held by local Serbs who rebelled against Croatia’s secession from the former Yugoslavia.

According to Serbian sources, 1,205 civilians, including 522 women and 12 children, were killed in the operation and some 200,000 fled to Serbia. According to Croatian Helsinki Human Rights Committee, 677 Serb civilians were killed.

The United Nations War Crimes Rribunal for the former Yugoslavia last April sentenced two Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, to 24 and 18 years in jail respectively for crimes committed in the operation.

According to the indictment, they were a part of a “joint criminal enterprise”, headed by late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, aimed at expelling minority Serbs from the country. Gotovina and Markac have appealed the sentence.

Croatia is expected to join the European Union in 2013, but Belgrade insists Zagreb should first facilitate the return of refugees, resolve their property claims and create conditions for normal integration into society.

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