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Croat Village Allegedly Attacked As Example

Witness in Stanisic and Simatovic trial describes heavy bombing of Skabrnja and killing of residents.
By Julia Hawes
A witness told the Hague tribunal this week how Yugoslav army, JNA, forces attacked the village of Skabrnja in November 1991 “as an example” to other Croatian communities.



Marko Miljanic, who worked as a police commander in Skabrnja and was a former officer of the JNA, described the heavy bombing of his village during the autumn of 1991.



He told judges trying Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic how ground forces were deployed in Skabrnja, a mostly Croatian village.



“[The JNA] used artillery pieces to bomb and intimidate so [villagers] would escape into basements. They surrounded the area, dealt with civilians and members of the reserve interior ministry forces and killed them,” Miljanic told judges.



Stanisic and Simatovic have been charged with participating in a joint criminal enterprise, with the objective of forcibly and permanently removing non-Serbs from large areas of Croatia and Bosnia and Hercegovina through persecution, murder and deportation of the Croat, Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat populations.



Stanisic served as the head of the Serbian State Security Service, DB, from 1991 to 1998, while Simatovic worked under the authority of Stanisic as the commander of the special operations unit of the DB.



According to the indictment, Stanisic and Simatovic established, organised and financed training centres for Serb forces, with the purpose of establishing military actions in Croatia and Bosnia.



The indictment states that Stanisic and Simatovic sent these forces to Croatia and Bosnia, where they committed crimes and took control of towns and villages in Serb-held areas in Croatia and Bosnia, forcing non-Serbs to leave the territories.



According to the indictment, in November 1991, Serb forces, including members of the JNA and Serb Territorial Defence, TO, units, attacked the village of Skabrnja. On November 18, the forces killed at least 38 non-Serb civilians in their homes or in the streets, the indictment states.



Miljanic, who lost several relatives in the attack including his brother, recounted the events of November 18 for the judges. The first bombing began at 10 or 11 am, he said, with three or four more waves of bombers continuing their assault throughout the day.



Miljanic told judges that Skabrnja was a village without any significant military or economic facilities, apart from an agricultural cooperative. Many of the buildings that were destroyed in the bombings were churches, schools, clinics and residential buildings, Miljanic said.



The prosecution asked Miljanic, who also testified in the trials of Slobodan Milosevic and Milan Martic, to describe the members of the “special forces” he had talked about in his statement to the office of the prosecutor. In his statement, Miljanic described the men who disembarked from a series of helicopters landing in Skabrnja as wearing dark uniforms and berets.



He said he could tell they were special forces by their berets.



“Special forces wore different headgear – berets – and regular soldiers wore ‘Tito’ caps,” Miljanic said.



Miljanic told the judges that the special forces used automatic light weapons in their assault on the village, including Uzis and hand grenades, as well as silencers on their weapons.



The prosecution asked Miljanic what took place after the forces arrived in the helicopters.



“The most terrible things happened – killings, civilians dragged out of their basements, massacres,” Miljanic said.



The prosecution read from Miljanic’s statement to the prosecution in which he described the attack on Skabrnja by 100 JNA soldiers as a “strategic action”, where the soldiers wanted to trap the village and prohibit anyone from leaving Skabrnja alive.



“Skabrnja was not a regular tactical target, but a strategic target,” Miljanic told the judges. He said the soldiers used “killing, shelling as an example as what might happen to other” areas like Skabrnja.



“It was a politically strategic question,” he added. He said that it did not make sense for such forces to be sent to a small area with a very small population.



The prosecution showed the court a record of Croatian soldiers and civilians that were killed in Skabrnja, as collected on July 9, 2002. They asked Miljanic to identify several of the victims, and describe how they died.



One man was a waiter who had escaped Skabrnja after the attack but returned to get his wife and young children. The JNA waited for him and killed him, Miljanic said.



Another civilian on the list was a barber.



“He was caught alive and beaten on asphalt,” Miljanic told the judges. “[A soldier] put a gun to his head, fired, cut off his ear, wrapped it up, and put it in his pocket.”



The man was thrown into bushes, and died within an hour, Miljanic said.



On November 18, Miljanic also saw a tank convoy that used 200 male, female and elderly civilians as human shields, he told the judges.



Gerardus Knoops, defence counsel for Stanisic, asked if the attack by the JNA on Skabrnja was purely a military operation.



“I cannot answer that,” Miljanic said. “There were no military targets in Skabrnja, so I don’t know what it [was] about.”



The trial continues next week.



Julia Hawes is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.