Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Dubrovnik Siege Admission

Former admiral admits guilt for artillery barrage of civilians trapped in historic port.
By Emir Suljagic

A Serbian admiral last week admitted responsibility for one of the landmark moments of the wars in former Yugoslavia - the siege of Dubrovnik.


Pictures of thick smoke curling up from the historic port on Croatia's Adriatic coast are one of the enduring images of the war. Until now, Serbian forces have denied bombarding the old part of town.


That changed on August 27, when former Yugoslav vice-admiral Miodrag Jokic pleaded guilty to six counts of violations of the laws and customs of war. Prosecutors dropped wider charges against him relating to the siege, in a deal to win his admission of guilt.


They will hope that his mea culpa goes some way towards convincing hardliners in Belgrade that the Yugoslav military was responsible for atrocities in the war in Croatia in 1991.


Jokic was initially charged in February 2001, together with two other men - General Pavle Strugar and Captain Vladimir Kovacevic. They were accused of violations of laws or customs of war under the Geneva conventions, for their part in organising the three month-long siege of Dubrovnik.


Strugar surrendered to the tribunal and was provisionally released until the start of his trial in October. Kovacevic is still on the run.


Jokic made an emotional confession when he appeared in the dock, accepting his responsibility for victims of one of the most devastating artillery attacks, which killed 12 people on December 6, 1991. He accepted responsibility for shelling the Old Town in Dubrovnik that day, and for killing two and injuring three civilians.


Answering questions from the judge, he paused and then said in a trembling voice, "Your honours, I am guilty." He also admitted responsibility for destroying and damaging Dubrovnik's historical monuments, some of which are under UNESCO protection.


The admiral is one of the highest Yugoslav armed forces officers to be indicted by the tribunal and the first ever to admit responsibility for the campaign against Dubrovnik. During the attack Yugoslav and Serbian media reported that the billowing dark smoke coming from Dubrovnik was the result of Croats burning vehicle tires.


Jokic, born in 1935 was a career naval officer before briefly serving as defence minister in Serbia, then a republic within Yugoslavia, in 1989. In 1990 he was made a vice-admiral, and during the Dubrovnik campaign he was commanding officer of the Yugoslav military's Ninth Military Naval Sector.


At the end of the hearing Jokic was provisionally released pending sentencing.


Emir Suljagic is an IWPR reported in The Hague.