(Reuters) - Former Croatian general Ante Gotovina went on trial at the Hague war crimes tribunal on Tuesday, charged with war crimes during the Croatian offensive that recaptured the rebel Serb Krajina region in 1995.
Following is a brief history of the Serb Krajina, which mostly comprises mountainous terrain between northern Croatia and the Adriatic coast, skirting the border with Bosnia:
* The Austro-Hungarian empire encouraged Serbs to settle in the military-administered border region in the 16th century, as a bulwark against Ottoman Turk attacks.
* After World War I, Krajina, as part of Croatia, joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which later became the socialist Yugoslav federation.
* In 1990, Franjo Tudjman’s nationalists won the first multi-party elections in Croatia and began to push for independence from Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia.
* Krajina’s Serb majority rebelled, blocking main roads and effectively cutting Croatia in two, and proclaiming the Autonomous Serb Region of Krajina.
* In 1991, Croatia proclaimed independence. Ethnic violence turned into war between Zagreb and Krajina’s Serbs, who were led by Milan Babic and armed and backed by the Yugoslav army. The Serbs started driving non-Serbs including some 80,000 Croats from the Krajina and proclaimed independence.
* An uneasy truce, brokered in 1992 and enforced by United Nations peacekeepers, lasted until May 1995, when a revamped Croatian army recaptured the northeastern part of the Krajina in a swift offensive, Operation Flash. Most local Serbs fled.
* Krajina’s Serbs rejected a peace proposal that would have brought them back under Zagreb’s control. Croat troops under Gotovina launched Operation Storm in August 1995, taking less than three days to recapture all of Krajina.
* Local leaders organised an exodus of up to 200,000 Serbs who headed in long convoys to Serb areas of Bosnia and to Serbia proper. In the three months after the offensive, dozens of elderly Serbs who stayed behind were summarily killed or had their houses burned down.
* Both Babic and his fellow Krajina Serb leader Milan Martic were convicted in the Hague, in 2004 and 2007 respectively, for their roles in the expulsion of Krajina’s Croats.
Writing by Zoran Radosavljevic; Editing by Kevin Liffey