(CN) – A private U.S. defense contractor “trained and equipped the Croatian military for Operation Storm and designed the Operation Storm battle plan,” which killed or displaced more than 200,000 Serbs in 1995, in the largest European land offensive since World War II, the Genocide Victims of Krajina say in Chicago Federal Court. They demand billions of dollars in damages from MPRI, founded by U.S. military officers who were “downsized” at the end of the Cold War, and L-3 Communications, which bought MPRI for $40 million in 2000.
“This is a class action brought by ethnic Serbs who resided in the Krajina region of Croatia up to August 1995 and who then became victims of the Croatian military assault known as Operation Storm – an aggressive, systematic military attack and bombardment on a demilitarized civilian population that had been placed under the protection of the United Nations,” the 40-page complaint begins.
“Operation Storm was designed to kill or forcibly expel the ethnic Serbian residents of the Krajina region from Croatian territory, just because they were a minority religio-ethnic group. Defendant MPRI, a private military contractor subsequently acquired by Defendant L-3 Communications Inc., trained and equipped the Croatian military for Operation Storm and designed the Operation Storm battle plan. Operation Storm became the largest land offensive in Europe since World War II and resulted in the murder and inhumane treatment of thousands of ethnic Serbs, the forced displacement of approximately 200,000 ethnic Serbs from their ancestral homes in Croatian territory, and the pillaging and destruction of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Serbian-owned property. The victims of Operation Storm and their heirs and next of kin herein claim that Defendants were complicit in genocide.”
Two named plaintiffs, Milena Jovic and Zivka Mijic, describe what they suffered in the offensive.
Jovic says that as she and her husband and children fled the bombardment of Knin, on Aug. 4, 1995, “they saw dozens of bodies scattered throughout the streets and roads leading out of Knin and houses and buildings burning as a result of shelling with incendiary explosives. … While driving through the Lika area in the Krajina region, the Jovic’s refugee column was shelled by artillery, and bombed and strafed by Croatian military aircraft. People were wounded and dying all around them.”
They escaped to Serbia, where they still live.
Mijic, who suffered the same attack, say she and her family was a neighbor “decapitated when struck by an artillery projectile … and many other attacks by Croatian forces resulting in refugees being wounded and killed in their exodus from the Krajina.”
They lived in a refugee camp in Kosovo, and were granted residency in the United States in July 2000.
They claim, for the class, the MPRI and L3 knew, or should have known, when they sought work as mercenaries in the former Yugoslavia, of the atrocities and war crimes that Croatians had committed against Serbs in World War II concentration camps, and in widely reported statements from Croatian officials, including its president, in the 1980s, as the violence in the former Yugoslavia intensified.
The United Nations in 1991 set up four protected areas – two of them in Krajina – to protect Croatian civilians from the Serbs. “The concern thus evidenced by the Security Council for the Serbian inhabitants of Krajina is objective proof of the imminence of hostilities coming from Croatia. This fact was known or reasonably should have been known to MPRI,” according to the complaint.
“By October 1994, the accelerating campaign in Croatia to kill or oust all the Serbs in that country had focused intently upon the 200,000 Serbs living in the Krajina region. There was pressure on the Croatian Army to get rid of these people. But the Army could not figure out any way to do so. Objectively speaking it was virtually impossible to move or kill 200,000 people,” the complaint states.
The class claims that MPRI got a multimillion-dollar contract from Croatia in or about October 1994. Among MPRI’s duties were to “procure through its contacts heavy
military equipment including artillery batteries and import it into Croatia; [and] arrange for Croatia to receive real-time coded and pictorial information from US reconnaissance satellites over Krajina in order for the data to be used for accuracy targeting in artillery batteries,” the complaint states.
“It was evident that MPRI’s acts, especially including equipping and training military forces, would run counter to UN Security Council Resolution 713. But because MPRI is not a state, it is not legally bound by U.N. resolutions. Thus MPRI could do things that the United States could not do, such as importing weapons into Croatia. …
“There can be no doubt that MPRI knew exactly what Croatia would do with the training and armaments that MPRI was going to provide. During the contract negotiations between MPRI and Croatia in October 1994, Minister Susak specifically told the MPRI representatives: ‘I want to drive the Serbs out of my country.'”
The complaint then describes in detail the planning and execution of Operation Storm, which the victims say was named after the U.S.’ Operation Desert Storm operations against Iraq.
The complaint cites an indictment from the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia at The Hague: “In the course of Operation Storm and the continuing related operations and/or actions, Croatian forces inflicted inhumane acts on Serb civilians and persons taking no part in hostilities, including persons placed hors de combat, causing not only mental abuse, humiliation and anguish (including threats to kill such persons or their families), but also severe physical injury, by shooting, beating, kicking and burning people, including extensive shelling of civilian areas and an aerial attack on fleeing civilians. Family members were often forced to watch while other family members were beaten and abused. Inhumane acts and cruel treatment were especially inflicted on the most vulnerable victims, including elderly women and civilians in hospitals.
“Whether MPRI personnel took part in the genocide is not known and is not alleged here. But what is known definitively is that MPRI provided the means that enabled the genocide to occur. And the well-known history of the Jasenovac massacres should have put MPRI personnel on notice that employing Air-Land Battle Doctrine on a peaceful civilian population would most likely have as its aftermath the murderous ‘mopping up’ operations of the Croatian army as described in the indictment quoted in the preceding two paragraphs.
“During and immediately after Operation Storm, land mines were placed in the areas that had had high-density demographics. The result is that displaced Serbians are afraid to go back to their old neighborhoods that are land-mined. The 1995 genocide is not over. The Statute of Limitations has not yet begun to run due to the presence of the deadly land mines.”
The class seeks damages for complicity in genocide: Damages at $25,000 per capita for 200,000 victims of genocide amount to a total of $5 billion. The equivalent amount in today’s dollars, figured at 15 years at 5 percent interest compounded annually, is $10.4 billion.”
The class’s lead attorney is Anthony D’Amato, with the Northwestern University Law School. Robert Pavich, John Ostojic, and Kevin Rogers, all of Chicago, signed on as co-counsel.