‘We needed Operation Storm as much as Croatia did’
Author: - interview with General Atif Dudakovic
Uploaded: Friday, 15 September, 2006
The most distinguished wartime general of the Bosnian army replies in an interview to charges made in a Belgrade TV broadcast that he was responsible for war crimes in the final stages of the Bosnian war
An amateur video released by Serbian TV in early August 2006 made grave charges against members of the Croatian Army (HV) and the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina (AB-H). It purportedly showed the Black Mambas, a reconnaissance and commando unit of the HV, and AB-H soldiers belonging to the 505th brigade from Bužim known as the Hamza brigade, searching a refugee column on a road close to Dvor na Uni, separating off the men and taking them to a nearby field; ugly curses and imprecations are heard in the background, followed by an image of the execution of an unarmed captive. All this supposedly took place during Operation Storm [Oluja], the anniversary of which was at the time being celebrated throughout Croatia. Violent reactions from Zagreb followed the film’s projection, even anger directed at the Bosnian Army’s 5th Corps accused of besmirching the HV’s glorious past, while Belgrade continued to add oil to the flames. The Hague tribunal denied that the tape was in its possession. For Serbian TV, first on the list of accused was the commander of the 5th Corps and most celebrated AB-H general, Atif Dudaković. Further broadcast film showed him commanding his artillery, with his familiar order: ‘Fire!’ acquiring the Mladić-style significance of ‘Torch!’ [Serb villages: ‘paliti’ in Bosnian can mean either ‘to fire’ or ‘to set on fire’]. As for Sarajevo, it has chosen to keep its counsel: albeit a former member of the SDA’s Supreme Committee, the general has never in fact become part of the Bosniak establishment. General Dudaković, for his part, reacted like a soldier. Immediately after the first pictures were broadcast, he stated: ‘The Army of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina was never ordered to commit crimes. If such things happened, then there should be an investigation and the perpetrators punished.’
Dani: Can you tell us whether you have seen all the pictures and what your reaction is?
Dudaković: My telephones have not stopped ringing since the evening of the broadcast. Apart from journalists from all over the world, most calls come from my soldiers, which is why I keep my lines open. I am now in Bihać. I was obliged to go there, since the veterans’ organizations insisted on it. I am in constant contact with them, i.e. with the president of the Association of Š ehid Families, the president of the RVI [War Invalids], the paraplegics, the Gold Lilies [holders of medals for bravery], etc. We are discussing what strategy we should adopt. The fact is that the latest pictures are sheer forgeries. They show me in the forest - I always kept the artillery battalion with me - ordering: ‘Fire, fire, fire!’. They put on a subtitle saying: ‘Fire the Serb villages.’ I am told that there is more to come.
The film can be divided into two parts: the first shows the Oluja action and an HV unit called the Mambas. The second shows Hamza soldiers of AB-H and the killing of a prisoner. Have you seen this picture?
Yes, I have.
Your reaction was that there should be an investigation.
Yes, I said that there should be an investigation. The Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina was never ordered to commit crimes and it is necessary to establish what happened.
Do you know which area is involved here?
Yes. It is the area of Bužim.
Can you say something about Operation Storm and the manner of cooperation between the HV and the AB-H?
But of course, given my role in it all. As its commander-in-chief I received all the praise that the 5th Corps had earned, so if I was responsible for victory then I was responsible also for anything that was not good. I know very well what happened within the 5th Corps. When talking about Operation Storm, we must not forget that in July 1995 Bihać became the target of a strong offensive on the part of the Serb army, the aim of which was to destroy the 5th Corps. The operation was commanded by General Mrkšić. But there was also the ongoing Operation Spider led by General Novaković. The 5th Corps was under constant siege by five Serb corps, two from Bosnia and three from Croatia, as well as by special forces forming the Spider operational group commanded by General Mile Novaković. The acme of this operation, the destruction of the 5th Corps, was planned for 23 July 1995, but in the meantime there was the Split Agreement [between Zagreb and Sarajevo], designed in particular to save the people of the Bosnian Krajina. So that an alibi - or, if you wish, a pretext - for Operation Storm included saving 250,000 Bosniaks and other endangered population in the area of the Bosnian Krajina. Operation Storm was not only a strategically decisive HV action for Croatia; it was strategically decisive also for Bosnia-Herzegovina.
What happened was that when on that 23 July the Serb forces were halted in precisely the area of the municipalities of Bužim and Cazin and the front was stabilized, there followed Operation Storm which resulted in the liberation of Croatia but also in the disappearance of the so-called Autonomous Republic of Western Bosnia [Fikret Abdić’s parastate]. Those who took part in this action were the forces of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as enemy forces composed of the forces of the former JNA, Serbia, Republika Srpska, Republika Srpska Krajina and the Autonomous Republic of Western Bosnia. This would be a summary of events between 23 July and 5 August 1995.
Ever since then Croatia has been celebrating this operation by its army without any reference to the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Following these pictures, however, there is talk of the possibility of a cooling of relations between Zagreb and Sarajevo. According to the comments coming from Zagreb, the crimes committed during Operation Storm - deportation of refugees, ethnic cleansing, crimes in general - were all down to the AB-H.
That is in my view an understandable reaction, given that a strong relationship between Zagreb and Sarajevo was never established. But one must not forget that forces from Croatian territory, i.e. paramilitary Serb forces from the [Croatian] Krajina, were strongly engaged in the attack aimed to resolving the situation in the Bosnian - i.e. Cazin - Krajina. These were nominally forces of Fikret Abdić’s ‘national defence’, but were in reality Serb forces commanded by General Novakovi
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