Verdict due on Friday 15 April at ICTY for Croatian ex-general Ante Gotovina 14 Apr 2011
Seen as a war hero to many in Croatia, Gotovina awaits tomorrow's verdict in his trial for war crimes and, if found guilty, could be sentenced to 27 years imprisonment.

In July 2001, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) issued sealed indictments to the Croatian government seeking the arrest of Ante Gotovina. Gotovina immediately went on the run and, for over four years, travelled between countries such as Argentina, Chile, Russia, China and the Czech Republic, before his eventual arrest in the Canary Islands on 7 December 2005.

Gotovina, together with his co-accused Mladen Markač, a former commander of the special police of Croatia's interior ministry, and Ivan Čermak, assistant defence minister from 1991 to 1993, is charged with leading the three month long “Operation Storm", which resulted in the recapture of Croatia's Serb-held Krajina region in 1995 and charged the course of the war of independence. The three stand accused of aiding and abetting the murders of 324 Krajina Serb civilians and prisoners of war by "shooting, burning and/or stabbing" them and forcibly displacing almost 90,000 Serb civilians. Gotovina was charged with five counts of crimes against humanity (persecutions, deportation inhumane acts, murder) and four counts of violations of the laws or customs of war (plunder, wanton destruction, murder, cruel treatment) but he denied all charges.

The trial was due to begin in May 2007 but was postponed due to conflicts between defence lawyers, eventually commencing on 11 March 2008. Closing arguments were delivered in September 2010 with prosecutors calling a 27-year jail term for Gotovina, accusing him of having sought the "permanent removal of the Serb population from the Krajina region”.

In Croatia, veterans of the war of independence have scheduled a parade through Zagreb on Thursday, to be followed by a prayer service for Gotovina, Markač and Čermak. Some veterans have announced plans to stage a solidarity protest rally on Saturday at Trg Bana Jelacica, Zagreb's main square, in the event of a guilty verdict. The lawyers of Gotovina and Markač have issued statements on behalf of their clients, saying that such gatherings would be counterproductive. Gotovina’s counsel, Luka Misetic, said that a protest would only “spread pessimism and increase tensions”.

According to a recent poll reported by the Croatian Times, over a third of Croatians believe the three will be found guilty but released on the basis of time served, while 18% believe they will be sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. The Croatian prime minister, Jadranka Kosor, has publicly encouraged a peaceful reaction by veterans to whatever Friday’s verdict brings, while recently stating that she is "convinced that in The Hague it will be proved that Croatia led a just and liberating war" and expressed her hopes for a "just" verdict. The Catholic church in Croatia has called for fasting and prayers for a fair verdict.

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