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Dubrovnik Attacked Under False Pretext

Destruction of historic city followed untrue warning that tens of thousands of Croatian troops threatened Yugoslav state.
By Carla Sapsford

A former Montenegrin foreign minister this week said that Pavle Strugar, the former general on trial for the shelling of Dubrovnik’s historic old town, lured Yugoslav officials into agreeing to the battle by lying to them outright.

Nikola Samardzic, who was Montenegro’s foreign minister from February 1991 to July 1992 when he was ousted by nationalist politicians, said that during a meeting of top government and military officials on October 1, 1991, Strugar claimed that Montenegro was about to be attacked by 30,000 “ustashas” – a pejorative term for Croatian irregular forces. The general argued that the Yugoslav state needed to defend itself against these invaders.

“Strugar’s reputation was great and I believed him,” Samaradzic told the court in testimony against the now aged general.

He said that if Strugar’s claims had been true it would have been necessary to fight, but that in reality, Yugoslav troops ended up waging an “unjust war”, that he characterised as an “act of aggression against people who had not harmed us in any way”.

At this point, he said, Yugoslav army artillery were “within a stone’s throw” of Dubrovnik’s old town, and the city was “completely surrounded on all sides” by Yugoslav land and naval forces.

Samardzic stressed that he was in no doubt that Strugar was in command of the deployed forces. And, he added, the general was keen to “conquer Dubrovnik”.

According to Samardzic, Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic cautioned against destroying historic Dubrovnik, but at the same time encouraged the Yugoslav army to repel the “ustasha” men.

Pointing out that Dubrovnik had never been directly attacked by any of the region’s conquerors in 14 centuries, Samaradzic said he was ashamed that it was a Montenegrin, General Strugar, who did so.

He said that he believed that some of the commanders involved in bombarding Dubrovnik were jealous of the city’s wealth.

“I don’t think a single military officer was ever called to account for his actions in and around Dubrovnik,” he said.

Strugar’s defence lawyers tried to discredit Samardzic as a witness by pointing out inconsistencies in his testimony.

As an example, they pointed out that in his 2000 statement to prosecutors, Samardzic said that Admiral Miodrag Jokic, who is also indicted for the siege of Dubrovnik, was present at the October 1991 meeting, but that he later claimed that he was not.

Samardzic replied that he had been ill in 2000 when he gave the statement, and that the tribunal investigator at the time spoke with a strong American accent he was unused to.

The defence said that the Yugoslav army was only acting to protect the integrity of the state, and Croatia’s attempt to secede was illegal.

The lawyers also said that Croatian forces operating in and around Dubrovnik were part of an illegal paramilitary unit, and that these “paramilitary actions were minimised or totally covered up” by Samardzic in his answers.

Because Samardzic fell ill during the questioning, the defence was not able to finish its cross-examination, so it will continue next week.

Another witness who testified this week was Catholic rector Slavko Grubesic, whose parish was in the old town.

Grubesic extensively detailed the damage to the churches, palaces and monasteries within his parish as well as the exact times of the shelling. He also described the flood of refugees into Dubrovnik from neighbouring towns to escape Yugoslav army shelling.

Grubesic stated unequivocally that he never saw Croatian soldiers in the old town, nor did he hear of soldiers elsewhere in his parish.

Carla Sapsford is a freelance journalist based in The Hague.

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