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Dubrovnik Shelling Recalled

Court trying general accused of bombarding historic city hears eyewitness accounts of the attack.
By Carla Sapsford

Prosecutors in the trial of Pavle Strugar, the senior Yugoslav officer indicted for the 1991 siege of Dubrovnik, called two witnesses this week to tell the court about the destruction of the city’s cultural institutions and how its citizens responded.


The first was Ivan Mustac, who was formerly head of the Dubrovnik’s archives housed in the historic Sponza Palace, and a member of parliament.


Mustac told the court that when the siege began, Croatian general Nojko Marinovic, who was in charge of defending the city, asked him to carry a message to the commander of the National Guard Corps.


The message read, “Dubrovnik has no ammunition, no weapons and one recoiling gun, and with that, [it] is unable to defend itself.”


According to Mustac, the National Guard commander replied that the Serbian force surrounding the city was so powerful that even if the Croatia military were to deploy everything it had, the city would be still unable to defend itself.


Mustac also recounted how the city assembly appealed for the United Nations to declare Dubrovnik a demilitarised zone. The November 1991 proposal called for residents to be evacuated and the city spared – but nothing came of it.


In its cross-examination, Strugar’s defence asked Mustac whether local civilians had fired at the Yugoslav forces from their balconies. The witness said he heard many rumours during the siege, but was unable to verify first-hand which were true.


The second witness to appear, Ivo Grbic, is a well-known painter and a longtime resident of the old town.


He confirmed that there were no Croatian soldiers or armoured personnel carriers in the old town when the siege began.


Grbic went on to recount how, as a result of shelling on December 6, 1991, his house caught fire while he, his sister and his mother were inside. The family managed to escape, but the house burned down.


The same day he walked around Dubrovnik taking pictures of the damage caused by the bombardment. As protection, he wore a copper kettle on his head to serve as a helmet.


Carla Sapsford is a freelance journalist based in The Hague.


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