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

Croatian Waw Crimes Retrial Nears End

(TU No 439, 10-Feb-06)
The eight were acquitted in 2002 of murdering and torturing prisoners at the Lora military prison in Split during the war in Croatia. But the judgement was overturned in 2004 by judges at the country’s Supreme Court, who cited “serious mistakes” in the proceedings.

Among the problems dogging the original trial was the highly politicised atmosphere that surrounded it, which left many prosecution witnesses feeling too intimidated to testify.

Only four of the original indictees were present for the retrial, which began in September last year. The most senior accused, Tomislav Duic, went into hiding before the first trial had even begun. Another three fled after their original acquittal was overturned.

All four of those facing the Split court in person - Tonci Vrkic, Davor Banic, Ante Gudic and Andjelko Botic - have continued to deny the charges.

Vrkić told the judges that one particular prisoner who prosecutors allege was beaten to death in the prison was in fact wounded after he attacked a guard during an escape bid.

Gudić acknowledged that other members of the military police and Croatian secret service had psychologically and physically abused prisoners but denied any involvement himself.

And Botic claimed that he had even stood up to those in the military police who wanted to cover up the death of one prisoner. “Because of that I’ve been in prison for two and half years already for something I didn’t do,” he objected.

A particularly tense moment in the trial came when Vrkic, testifying in person, was asked by Gudic if he had ever been threatened with death if he told the truth before the court. Vrkic declined to answer the question and Judge Spomenka Tonković let the matter pass.

The defence and prosecution will now have a chance to offer a closing statement summing up their respective cases.

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