Croatian atrocities being forgotten: Cdn. officers

Some Canadian officers say they are frustrated by inaction over a 1995 ethnic cleansing operation by Croatians against Serbs

Canadian officers say they are frustrated by inaction over a 1995 ethnic cleansing operation by Croatians against Serbs one in which the Croats may have had western help.

They documented numerous atrocities during Operation Storm, which was a four-day campaign by the Croats to recover land held in central and southern Croatia for four years by Serbian militias.

However, not one person has been arrested and brought before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

More than 200,000 Serbs were expelled, and thousands were killed.

"Just amazing. You can see the holes in the back of the head," said Capt. Gerry Carron, showing pictures he took to document the killings.

"We found people in wells," he said. "There was an old lady we found head-first in a well. Why did they do that?"

Some top military officers said the expertise required to plan and execute Operation Storm meant it couldn't have been done by the Croats alone.

Croatia's American consultant

Fingers have been pointed at Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI), a U.S. consulting company based in Alexandria, Va. The company's Web site points to an article in which the Croatian government praised the job MPRI has done for it although MPRI has denied involvement in Operation Storm.

"I don't think it was the Croats themselves that did that," said Maj.-Gen. Alain Fourand, who commanded UN forces in the area of Operation Storm, adding he suspected it was MPRI.

Maj.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, who will be going to Afghanistan to command Canadian troops, also said he doubts the Croats themselves pulled off Operation Storm.

"That was done by people who really knew what they were doing," he said, adding he didn't think the Croats had the expertise.

Croatia was getting assistance in other ways. Argentina supplied artillery used in Operation Storm despite a UN ban and even though its own soldiers were working there as peacekeepers.

Looking back, Capt. Carron said peacekeepers may have made things worse by disarming the Serbs while the Croats re-armed.

Canadian officers say the involvement of the West could explain the foot-dragging on prosecution, although the tribunal said the case is largely circumstantial.

The Canadians also believe the Croatian commander of Operation Storm is being protected by supporters in Croatia's government, and that not enough diplomatic pressure is being exerted.