Croatian officials on Friday celebrated the 27th anniversary of the country’s Operation Storm military victory over rebel Serbs.
Political leaders, wartime military generals and war veterans all gathered in the town of Knin to mark the event, which is credited with ending the country’s war of independence in 1995.
Croatian President Zoran Milanovic said large numbers of Serbs that fled Croatia as a result of Operation Storm was “a human tragedy, but that human tragedy was preceded by human greed and human stupidity of the rulers in Belgrade.”
Over the course of Operation Storm, Croatian forces managed to reclaim nearly all the territory lost in 1991 to rebel Croatian Serbs. The operation also saw some 200,000 Serbs flee Croatia in a large convoy of cars, buses and tractors.
According to the Croatian Helsinki Committee. a total of 677 civilians, most of whom were Serbs, were killed during and after Operation Storm.
A Croatian wartime general, Mladen Markac, was acquitted by the Hague Tribunal of being involved in an operation to commit crimes against humanity as part of Operation Storm. In a speech given at the commemoration, he said the operation had been “in military and human terms, a clean victory.”
In a similar speech, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic lamented recent attempts “to denounce Croatia with false, futile accusations about the expulsion of the Serb population from Croatia in 1995.”
“The indictments announced by Belgrade of Croatian pilots [for bombing part a convoy of fleeing Serb refugees in 1995] and the expansion of [Serbia’s] jurisdiction to the territory of other countries are unacceptable,” he said.
Political figures at the event also spoke of the current crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where proposed reforms may prove to favour Croat nationalists.
Meanwhile, Serbia commemorated the Serb victims of Operation Storm at a religious service in Novi Sad.
Speeches were made by political leaders as well as Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Porfirije. Dramatised recreations of the convoy as it fled Croatia were performed by actors.
According to media reports, most of the speeches made at the Serbian commemoration referred to a recent decision by Zagreb to bar Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic from visiting the Jasenovac World War II concentration camp in Croatia, and tensions with Kosovo over planned regulations that would be imposed on Serbs in North Kosovo.
Serbian authorities have steadily increased the size of ceremonies commemorating Operation Storm since 2015, typically organising events in large municipalities were Croatian Serbs have settled after fleeing to Serbia.
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