Doctor Says Seselj Incited Vukovar Paramilitaries

Hospital director said Seselj’s speeches before fall of Vukovar encouraged followers to “enjoy the slaughter”.

Doctor Says Seselj Incited Vukovar Paramilitaries

Hospital director said Seselj’s speeches before fall of Vukovar encouraged followers to “enjoy the slaughter”.

A Vukovar doctor said that Serb paramilitaries who seized Croats from a hospital in the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar and then killed them were incited by ultranationalist leader Vojislav Seselj’s hate speeches.

Doctor Vesna Bosanac, the former director of the Vukovar hospital, told the Hague tribunal this week that Seselj came to the town on many occasions in the run-up to its takeover by Serb forces.

“He came to Vukovar on various occasions [in 1991] to encourage his followers to enjoy the slaughter, poisoning them with his well-known politics of hatred,” she said.

According to the indictment, “In November 1991, while Serb forces fought to take over Vukovar, Seselj visited the town and publicly pronounced, ‘Not one Ustasha must leave Vukovar alive’, thus instigating the killing of Croats.” Ustasha is a term referring to World War Two Nazi collaborators, which was used as a derogatory label for Croatian fighters in the Nineties conflict.

The indictment also alleges that on November 20, 1991, Serb forces, “including volunteers recruited and/or incited by Vojislav Seselj, removed approximately 400 Croats and other non-Serbs from Vukovar Hospital in the aftermath of the Serb take-over of the city”, taking around 300 of them to the nearby Ovcara pig farm.

According to the prosecutors, more than 250 Croats were tortured and executed at this farm and later buried in a mass grave.

Bosanac is one of the most valuable prosecution witnesses of the events which led to the massacre at the Ovcara farm – one of the worst crimes committed on Croatian territory during its 1991-95 war.

She has already testified at four other trials in The Hague relating to crimes committed in Vukovar – including that of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic; the so-called Vukovar Three, Yugoslav army, JNA, officers Mile Mrskic, Miroslav Radic and Veselin Sljivancanin; and Slavko Dokmanovic, the former mayor of Vukovar.

This week, she gave her account of events prior to the massacre.

She said that many civilians and Croatian soldiers took shelter in the hospital before JNA and paramilitary units entered Vukovar.

They hoped that they would be safe there following an agreement signed between the JNA and the Croatian government on November 18, under which the former promised that the government would be able to evacuate the hospital safely.

However, the agreement was violated.

Although International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC and European Monitoring Mission, ECMM, representatives were supposed to be in charge of conducting the evacuation of the hospital, Serb troops stopped most humanitarian workers from entering the building, which they then occupied themselves.

“On November 19, the [ICRC] representatives were supposed to come into the hospital, but they failed to do so because they were prevented from entering Vukovar which was being occupied by JNA and paramilitary formations,” she said.

When one ICRC group managed to enter the hospital and brought some basic medical equipment, they couldn’t stay there because the Serbs ordered them to leave.

Presiding judge Jean-Claude Antonetti asked the witness whether it would have made a difference if the ICRC representatives or people from the ECMM had been allowed to stay.

“It certainly would have been helpful. The hundreds of people would probably still be alive and the tragic events could have been prevented,” said Bosanac.

According to her testimony, Serb nationalists took over the evacuation of the hospital and forced people onto buses. She said that many people were killed at this time.

Two hundred and sixty-two people were taken away from the hospital and 200 of them were later identified in a mass grave found on the Ovcara farm, she continued.

She said she found it striking that JNA units, which outnumbered Serb militia formations, did not stop the irregulars from killing civilians.

Judge Frederick Harhoff asked if she could explain the distinction between regular troops and Serb paramilitary units.

“Reservists, volunteers and paramilitary formations had specific marks on their helmets and white ribbons on their clothes, which apart from their overall messy appearance contributed to their intimidating posture, while JNA troops had regular, recognisable uniforms,” she explained.

The judge pointed out to Bosanac that she accused Seselj of being responsible for what happened in Vukovar, despite the fact that in previous testimony she had frequently mentioned JNA commander Sljivancanin as the key figure in deciding who lived and died.

“Sljivancanin was their military leader, but Seselj was the ‘idea’ leader whose orders he fulfilled,” she said.

In September 2007, the Hague tribunal found Sljivancanin guilty of failing to prevent Serb paramilitaries from torturing Croat prisoners at Ovcara and sentenced him to five years in prison. His case is currently pending before the tribunal’s appeals chamber.

“I heard Seselj say on a Serbian radio station that Vukovar has to fall by October, that it will be leveled down and that they will make a park out of it,” Bosanac told the judges.

“He also said that not a single Ustasha [Croatian fighter] will exit Vukovar alive.”

When the prosecutor asked her about the removal of people from the hospital, she said it must have been well-planned. She said there was no chance a few units acting independently could have managed it, as Seselj maintained.

Seselj, who is defending himself, refused to cross-examine the witness, and his examination was conducted based on questions he submitted to the trial chamber.

Clearly angry at the testimony, the defendant insulted the witness during a break in court proceedings.

The prosecutors then demanded that the judges assign Seselj a lawyer.

Although Judge Antonetti said the proposal would be considered, he added that there was no guarantee that this would prevent him from this sort of inappropriate behaviour in the future.

The judge then asked Seselj to control himself, saying he had himself chosen not to cross-examine the witness.

Elma Mahmutovic is an IWPR-trained journalist.
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