VETERANS of the war in Croatia protested on Zagreb's streets yesterday after a revered general was jailed for 24 years for "ethnic cleansing" as the price for Croatia joining the EU later this year.
The Croatian government reacted with fury to a UN judgment that Ante Gotovina was guilty of war crimes for commanding Operation Storm, a 1995 campaign still defended as "a legitimate military operation with the objective of liberating Croatian territory from occupation".
He was convicted of war crimes, including murder, deportation, persecution and inhuman acts. Mladen Markac, another Croat general was jailed for 18 years.
Jadranka Kosor, prime minister of Croatia, was particularly angered that Franjo Tudjman, founding father of independent Croatia, who died in 1999, was named with Gotovina in the judgment as a war crime conspirator.
"The verdict is unacceptable to the government and we will do everything in our power to change it," said Mrs Kosor. "We are proud of our victories and of all those who made it possible for Croatia to be free, independent and democratic today."
Gotovina (55), a former commando in the French Foreign Legion, led Operation Storm, which took back the communities along Croatia's eastern border held by Serb rebels early in the Balkan wars.
Two hundred thousand Serbs had to flee their homes and 324 civilians were murdered by "shooting, burning and/or stabbing" carried out by Croat forces in August 1995, according to the judgment. The general was indicted in 2001 and fled into exile, leading to a four-year hunt that ended when he was captured in a resort in Tenerife.
At The Hague's international criminal tribunal, a UN judge gave a harsher sentence than most had predicted.(© Daily Telegraph, London)