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Dokmanovic Trial: Alibi Witnesses Testify

Tribunal Update 77: Last Week in The Hague (18-23 May 1998)

That massacre is no longer "alleged," since the bodies of 200 victims have been found in a mass grave at Ovcara, but the participation of the accused in it, after last week's testimonies, is more "alleged" than ever.

Two days after the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) troops and their paramilitary allies from Serbia "liberated" Vukovar, a Croatian town razed to the ground during the preceding three months of siege, Zoran Jevtovic happened to be a member of a delegation from his town of Kladovo, which set out to visit the reservists from eastern Serbia who were fighting on the eastern Slavonian front.

In order to have a permanent record of this visit, the Kladovo radio station journalist brought along a video camera and recorded everything his delegation was doing - where it went, what it saw, with whom it talked - on that fatal 20 November 1991. Jevtovic was meticulously recording everything for posterity, in order to be able to say "I was there!" and it probably never crossed his mind that his video footage would one day serve as the key trial evidence for one of its protagonists. Namely, that it would be used as evidence that the video's protagonist was not where the prosecution and its witnesses claim he was: at the Ovcara hangar where the detained civilians, the sick, and the wounded were beaten and physically abused in different ways before they were shot dead.

Jevtovic's video was shown over and over again last week to Trial Chamber II, while 9 persons featured in it appeared in the role of defense witnesses before the judges (Antonio Cassese, presiding; Richard May; and Florence Mumba), whereas the tenth, Slavko Dokmanovic, followed the courtroom action in the capacity of the accused.

As a former president of the Municipal Assembly of the just "liberated" Vukovar, Dokmanovic acted as a kind of host to the delegation that also included two municipality presidents from Serbia. In short, on the morning of 20 November, Dokmanovic went to Backa Palanka (a town in Serbia, close to the Croatian border) to meet the delegation.

Around noon, the delegation and its "host" set out in two cars in the direction of Vukovar. They drove through the "liberated" town voicing, as it could be heard from the tape, astonishment at the level of destruction. They stopped at the yard of the transport company Velepromet, where several hundred people - mostly women, children, and elderly men (mainly of Croatian ethnicity)- were awaiting evacuation to Croatia.

A meeting of the "government" of the so-called Serb District of Eastern Slavonia, attended by Dokmanovic in the role of "agriculture minister," was held at Velepromet's business headquarters. After the meeting ended, at about 2 p.m., Dokmanovic and his guests got into the cars again and headed toward Backa Palanka. The camera was constantly on during the trip, also capturing the conversation in the car. It is clear from the footage that Dokmanovic was in the car.

At one point, the cars passed the crossroads where a road for Ovcara branches off. That part of the recording was shown and analyzed several times, especially during the cross-examination by the prosecutor, who was trying to establish whether the trip may have been interrupted at that point for some period of time, which would have allowed Dokmanovic to "pop in" at the Ovcara hangar and give his contribution to the maltreatment of the detainees.

Two out of the total of seven people who were lucky enough to be released from the hangar due to a fortunate chain of events before the killing began have told the court that the accused Dokmanovic was in the hangar between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. and that he personally took part in the beating of certain detainees. The defense's alibi witnesses, however, claimed that Dokmanovic was with them all the time and that they did not lose sight of him for a single moment. The prosecutor was not able to challenge their testimonies in the ensuing cross-examination.

The recording ends at dusk, with Dokmanovic still in the car with his guests. According to the indictment, it was at dusk of that 20 November 1991 that the inmates were being taken in groups of 10 to 15 from the hangar and transported in a small army truck to the nearby execution site.

The prosecutor will have an opportunity to dispute Dokmanovic's alibi during the rebuttal phase of the trial, which will begin after the defense is finished with its presentation of evidence. Judging by what has been seen last week, he will have a tough job.

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