Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Court Hears SRS Massacre Allegations

But Seselj denies his Serbian Radical Party volunteers took part in killings.
By Denis Dzidic
A former police officer this week testified in the trial of Vojislav Seselj that Serbian Radical Party, SRS, volunteers were involved in the murder of 45 civilians in a Croatian village in 1991.

Ex-Croatian police officer Djuro Matovina told the Hague tribunal that he was one of the first on the scene after the massacre in the village of Vocin in Western Slavonia in December 1991. He took part in the investigation “to find out who was behind this terrible attack” on mainly elderly victims.

The witness said the investigation proved that the crimes were committed by “local Serb special units and Serbian volunteers from the White Eagles group and Seselj's men”.

The Serb ultra-nationalist stands accused of encouraging volunteers to commit crimes against non-Serbs in Croatia, Bosnia and Vojvodina between 1991 and 1993.

According to the prosecution, Seselj “encouraged the creation of a homogenous ‘Greater Serbia’ ... by violence, and thereby participated in war propaganda and the incitement of hatred towards non-Serb people”.

Although prosecutors left alleged crimes in the region of Western Slavonia out of Seselj’s indictment in order to streamline their case, they are allowed to present related testimony to demonstrate the way SRS paramilitaries behaved in the field.

During the trial, the prosecution also showed video footage of Croatian civilians being murdered in the village.

Matovina testified about the number of Serb volunteer forces in Vocin in 1991.

“There were about 600 of them from the beginning of the conflict until December 1991. Then, right before the massacre occurred, most of them were transported back to Serbia. Only about 80 volunteers were left, and they are the ones that committed murders,” he said.

However, Seselj protested fiercely against the claim that his men were behind the killings.

He tried to undermine the credibility of the witness by presenting a 2002 statement from the same witness in which he said the crime was committed by the White Eagles.

Matovina denied his statements were contradictory.

“The White Eagles group and Seselj's men were like one unit, so when I said this in 2002, I just wasn't being precise. I thought of them as one group,” he said.

But Seselj rejected this. “All SRS volunteers were strictly forbidden to mingle and associate with other volunteer units before they left for assignments,” he said.

During cross-examination, Seselj insisted that all SRS volunteers had been evacuated before the massacre occurred.

Matovina said he had heard reports to the contrary, “Several reliable witnesses that escaped from Vocin told me that they recognised their attackers as SRS volunteers.”

During the trial, Matovina also spoke about the beginning of the war in Croatia and claimed that the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, had started hostilities.

“They handed out weapons to Serbs and formed illegal aggressor units which attacked Croatia,” he said.

At this point, Seselj, who had appeared agitated throughout the proceedings, accused the witness of being “a liar prepared by the Croatian government”, before being admonished by judges.

He then tried to show that Serbs came off worse than Croats during the conflict.

“The number of Croatians murdered during the war was 450 – about 150 soldiers and 300 civilians – while the number of Serb casualties was 1200 – 600 soldiers and 500 civilians. These are the facts, and they show who the aggressor was and who was more dangerous during the war,” said Seselj.

The accused again tried to discredit the witness, presenting the court with a criminal indictment against him for organised crime. However, Matovina denied any knowledge of this.

Seselj also asked whether crimes were committed against Serbs in Croatia before the war and whether the witness had tried to find those responsible.

“There were some sporadic events and several murders, but we, the police, did all we could to stop them and protect the public. We did investigate and found those responsible in several cases, in others, sadly, we did not,” replied Matovina.

Seselj was not happy with this answer and called Matovina a “fake”.

He then sought to discredit the witness further, by accusing him of abusing Serb civilians.

“Matovina took part in murders, beatings and the mistreatment of Serbs in the region of Slatina, Slavonia,” said Seselj.

But the former police officer dismissed the accusations as “preposterous and shocking”.

Seselj attempted to counter Matovina’s testimony that large groups of Croatians came to Slatina after being forced out of their homes in Vojvodina, Serbia.

“They came at the end of 1991 and the beginning of 1992. They told me they were pressured by activists from the Serbian Radical Party in Serbia to move to Croatia. They were forced to trade homes with Serbs that wanted to move to Serbia,” said Matovina.

But Seselj said this was “laughable”. He maintained that Serbs were less fortunate in these home exchanges because they were forced to leave larger homes in Croatia and to move to smaller ones in Vojvodina.

The trial continues next week.

Denis Dzidic is an IWPR-trained reporter in The Hague.

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