Croatia: Death Squad Revelations

Political storm sparked by press reports of alleged army atrocities.

Croatia: Death Squad Revelations

Political storm sparked by press reports of alleged army atrocities.

Saturday, 30 April, 2005

An ex-municipal leader shocked the country earlier this month when he publicly acknowledged that Croatian death squads murdered more than 100 Serb civilians in Osijek during the battle to defend the city from Serb troops in late 1991-early 1992.

Ladislav Bognar, the former head of Osijek-Baranja county council and onetime army commander in the region, made the startling statements in an interview with the weekly Croatian magazine Feral Tribune on July 12.

The independent Croatian media had long ago reported on the crimes - but authorities have steadfastly denied they took place and nobody has ever been punished for the crimes.

Bognar’s remarks sparked a political storm and many officials have accused the former official of being a treacherous liar intent on smearing Croatia’s war of independence.

Bognar’s claims, however, were confirmed not only by the Serb victims’ families and other eyewitnesses, but also by other Croatian soldiers who were ashamed of what was done in their name and do not want their reputation tainted by the deeds of the death squads.

“My husband Branko Lovric, one of the directors of the Osijek post office, was taken from our house in Sisacka street on October 25, 1991 by people wearing Croatian army uniforms. A witness who saw all this says they told him that he was being taken in for questioning and that they would bring him back in half an hour. They put him in a grey BMW and I’ve heard nothing about him since,” Marija Lovric told IWPR.

Milutin Kutlic, a prominent Osijek oncologist, was led away from his home in similar circumstances on December 7, 1991. His neighbours saw two soldiers in camouflage uniforms enter his house around four o’clock in the afternoon and the doctor was found dead the next day, floating, along with another body, in the Drava river.

Both bodies had been shot in the head. Their hands were tied and they had tape over their mouths.

“The police conducted an investigation, but that was it. Last year, the Osijek district prosecution told me that they were still working on the case, but that so far there was no evidence as to who could had committed this crime,” said Kutlic’s wife, Erika, a paediatrician who was on duty at the Osijek hospital when her husband was abducted.

A few other Serbs in Osijek went missing the same way, including international chess master Bogdan Pocuca, whose body was also found in the Drava with his hands bound and mouth taped.

One local Serb, Radoslav Ratkovic, survived the death squads’ work and has provided extensive evidence to both the media and the police.

Ratkovic, who worked as a technician at the Osijek hospital, was abducted from his nephew’s house on December 7, 1991 by three soldiers dressed in Croatian army uniforms. He was interrogated and beaten, before being taken to the bank of the Drava and shot in the head.

Convinced he was dead, the soldiers left. But the bullets had gone through Ratkovic’s jaw and he had survived. He managed to get to the bank and hid in the bushes, witnessing the soldiers return with Kutilic’s body which they dumped in the river.

Ratkovic identified two of the three soldiers and gave their full names to the police. He said that eight more people were interrogated by the soldiers and later executed.

IWPR has obtained the names of several others who were killed in Osijek, including Mile Stanar, Dragan Stojic, Dragan and Dusko Bekic, Cedomir Vuckovic and Dusko Bosnjak.

The district state prosecutor’s office in Osijek confirmed that it has police investigation reports on all these crimes including photo documentation. Still, they say, that even twelve years after the murders, they have no indication as to who was responsible.

In the meantime, two witnesses, barrister Vjencislav Bill and maintenance worker Ivan Ferenc, who claim to have some knowledge of what happened during this dark period, have contacted the police.

The victims’ relatives and much of the public claim that the police and the judiciary are not interested in investigating these crimes and cite a lack of political will.

As further evidence of the unwillingness to confront Croatian crimes, they point to the ongoing court case in Osijek concerning the killing 19 Serb civilians in Paulin Dvor. Only two out of ten soldiers investigated in connection with the crime were indicted.

Drago Hedl is a regular Osijek-based IWPR contributor.

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