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Delays Plague Vukovar Three Trial

Main defendant’s health problems cause further delay to case.
By Katherine Boyle
The trial of three former Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, officers charged with the 1991 massacre in Vukovar was postponed once more this week, this time due to the absence of the principal accused, Colonel Mile Mrksic, who underwent surgery last week.

The trial, which has been plagued by such problems, was adjourned in August as well, when Mrksic’s defence lawyer Miroslav Vasic suffered a significant heart attack.

Novak Lukic, the defence lawyer for Mrkisc’s co-accused Veselin Sljivancanin, warned the judges this week that his client would also soon be undergoing a medical procedure that could further postpone the proceedings.

Mrksic and other two former JNA officers, Miroslav Radic and Veselin Sljivancanin, are charged with overseeing the massacre of at least 264 Croats taken from the Vukovar hospital in 1991 when this Croat town fell to Serb forces.

Mrksic’s defence team finished presenting their case on October 2 with the testimony of their last witness, and now it was Radic’s turn to bring his own evidence.

Following the opening statement made by his defence team earlier this week, Radic was due to appear as the first witness in his own case. But Mrksic, who is still recovering from surgery, strongly protested and asked the court to postpone Radic’s testimony until he’s well enough to attend the trial again.

At the time relevant to the indictment, Radic was directly subordinated to Mrksic - who was the commander of the Vukovar operation - and his testimony could clearly implicate Mrksic in the crimes they are both charged with.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the colonel protested against Radic testifying in his absence.

Apparently very annoyed with this situation, Radic’s defence lawyer Borivoje Borovic recommended supplying Mrksic with a video link and telephone so the proceedings might continue. He also suggested that Mrksic might be able to attend the trial because when he visited Radic on October 2, he “saw Mrksic taking a walk in the courtyard, not resting”.

But Mrksic’s doctors said he was not in good enough condition to participate in the trial from his cell via the video link, so the judges granted Mrksic’s request and said Radic’s testimony would commence next week, when the accused felt better.

During October 2 hearings, Mrksic’s defence team presented their last witness, Colonel Borisa Gluscevic, whose official title was Assistant Commander of the Guards Brigade for Logistics during the Vukovar operation. Gluscevic, who reported to Mrksic daily, did not hesitate to praise Mrksic’s abilities and character.

“I don’t mince words,” Gluscevic told the court. “[Mrksic’s] associates …could not hold a candle to him. Mrksic is a great person, and I’m sure if you went to talk to every single member of the Vukovar brigade, they would agree.”

Gluscevic said that respect grew between Mrksic and himself as Mrksic saw him perform. Gluscevic was responsible for setting up a command post in the village of Berak, near Vukovar, and ensuring that troops had the supplies they needed.

“I respected [Mrksic] for the following reasons: he wasn’t rash, he did not bully his subordinates, he did not put people down,” he said. “We started trusting each other quite soon.”

Gluscevic emphasised that if any parts of his testimony were vague or inexact it was because his notebook, which he wrote in throughout the Vukovar operation, along with his military records, were destroyed during the 1999 NATO bombings. Gluscevic made this point a number of times during his testimony.

Prosecutor Marks Moore questioned Gluscevic’s credibility, calling him “a gentleman who has come here to lie”. The prosecutor pointed out discrepancies between Gluscevic’s testimony in court and previous defence counsel summaries of what his testimony was supposed to cover.

Moore described Gluscevic’s responses to questioning as “a tissue of lies” to help his former colleagues. In particular, Moore questioned Gluscevic’s account of his daily meetings with Mrksic after the fall of Vukovar, noting that some of the personnel Gluscevic cited as attending had never been mentioned during years of testimony by previous witnesses.

Gluscevic asserted his honesty, telling the court, “I’ve come here to say the truth and nothing but the truth and no one can convince me of anything else.”

After Gluscevic’s testimony, Radic’s lawyer Borovic presented his opening statement. He again noted the Radic defence team’s desire to accelerate the judicial process by only calling eight witnesses, including Radic himself and a military expert. Borovic said the court had “heard enough witnesses”.

Radic is expected to testify on October 9.

Katherine Boyle is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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