Croatian general appeals war crimes sentence
Croatian ex-general Ante Gotovina appealed his sentence for war crimes Monday, disputing a rule used to determine whether his troops had targeted Bosnian Serb civilians in a 1995 military operation. "There is no evidence that any civilian was targeted by artillery fire," Gotovina's lawyer Gregory Kehoe told the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which last year handed Gotovina a 24-year sentence. Gotovina, 56, and his co-accused Mladen Markac, also 56, were convicted of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by Croation troops during "Operation Storm" in 1995, specifically the unlawful shelling of four towns in Croatia's self-proclaimed Serb area of Krajina in August of that year. Kehoe challenged the use of a so-called "200-metre rule" during Gotovina's trial by the court in The Hague to determine whether artillery shells were aimed at military or civilian targets. Any shells falling more than 200 metres (yards) from a military target were determined to have been aimed at civilians, Kehoe said, charging that the court itself introduced the rule after prosecutors failed to prove civilians were targeted. "The trial chamber should have found that the prosecution simply failed in its burden of proof," Kehoe said, but instead it opted to choose the 200-metre "margin of error arbitrarily". His colleague, Luka Misetic, accused the trial chamber of using the rule "to fill huge gaps in the prosecution's case" and said that if the appeals chamber overturned the 200-metre rule, all Gotovina's convictions should be quashed. Gotovina, a former French Foreign Legion soldier, is regarded as a hero at home for his role during the war that was sparked by the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. Among those in court to support Gotovina on Monday was Goran Visnjic, the Croatian star of hit US television series ER. Visnjic urged the ICTY "not to be led by politics while considering his appeal, but by facts and justice. That's why we are here at the end of the day, for justice," Croatia's state-run HINA news agency quoted Visnjic as saying. Prosecutors argued that even if the appeals chamber found the shelling did not deliberately target civilians, the operation still led to the displacement of at least 20,000 Serbs from the area. They said it was a criminal plan devised at a meeting between the late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman and senior Croatian military commanders on island of Brijuni shortly before Operation Storm. In the first and only trial before the ICTY in which Croats faced charges of war crimes against Serbs, the court found Gotovina and Markac -- who was sentenced to 18 years behind bars -- guilty in April 2011 of a "widespread and systematic attack directed against the Serb civilian population." Gotovina, seen by his supporters as the man who ended the war in Croatia, was arrested in a luxury hotel in the Spanish Canary Islands in December 2005 after almost four years on the run.