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

Medak Trial Hears of Crimes Against Civilians

Witness says marks on bodies of civilians suggested that they had been subjected to torture.
By Goran Jungvirth
A retired military doctor this week told the war crimes trial of two Croatian generals that he collected bodies of civilians, many of them showing signs of torture, from the scene of a 1993 battle.

The two generals, Mirko Norac and Rahim Ademi, are on trial in Zagreb for crimes allegedly committed by Croatian forces against Serb population in the “Medak Pocket”.

The indictment alleges that at least 29 Serb civilians were killed and dozens were seriously injured during the operation, and that Croatian forces killed at least five Serb soldiers who had been captured or wounded.

Most Croatian officers and soldiers who gave evidence this week said they had not seen any civilians mistreated or killed during the operation, which was launched to expel rebel Serb forces. But Doctor Marko Jagetic said on September 27 that dozens of civilians’ bodies were collected after the campaign.

“Almost all… were civilians and no weapons or documents were found on any of them,” said Jagetic, who was the army doctor in charge of the team that collected the bodies of the dead after the campaign.

Following the order of Kornelije Brkic, head of the medical corps at central command, Jagetic said he was tasked with finding 52 bodies for an exchange of bodies with Serb forces. He was told that those bodies should not show signs of torture or abuse.

He said Brkic told him that if he disobeyed the order, his own body “could end up in the pile of bodies that will be exchanged for dead Croats”.

Most bodies, he said, had gunshot wounds that could not have been inflicted at close range. However, he added, many cuts on the bodies and other injuries showed evidence of torture and that civilians had been murdered.

For instance, on the body of Andjelija Jovic, he saw injuries caused by the victim being impaled alive the day before, he said.

Norac himself cross-examined the doctor, and said Serb forces had dressed the bodies in civilian clothes. The indicted general accused Jagetic of having a personal grievance against him.

“Jagetic had to retire because he drank too much, so he is now resentful,” said Norac. The witness just smiled at that, and said he didn’t feel it was necessary to comment.

Only two Serb civilians have testified so far at the trial, which started in June. Four more civilians were expected to give evidence this week, but did not appear. Twenty-eight Serb witnesses who require protective measures are scheduled to testify between October 20 and November 22.

But it seems that this week’s no-shows could be a sign of more problems to come with witnesses. The Croatian police are struggling to locate witnesses in Serbia and Bosnia. Some of them who live abroad have refused to come to Zagreb, and some were too frightened or too ill to appear in person, and may have to testify via a live video link.

Without civilian witnesses, a number of military officers appeared instead.

Mile Milkovic, former commander of the Gospic battalion who took the witness stand on October 1, said he didn’t see any civilian corpses in the Medak Pocket.

“There were no dead soldiers or civilians in my area of operation, but there were probably wounded ones, because we found a lot of bloody bandages and other material,” he said.

The Medak Pocket operation started on September 9, 1993 and lasted 18 days. Milkovic said Croatian soldiers were angry when ordered to retreat from the Pocket “because they had to give up the land they fought for” despite the operation having been successful.

He said he had specifically been ordered to refrain from burning houses, destroying property or killing civilians.

“I didn’t see any killings, nor did I hear about them,” said Milkovic. “Everything I know about those crimes I heard in the media.”

Jandro Grguric, the commander of a scout platoon who appeared in court the day after Milkovic, corroborated his testimony. At the time of the Medak Pocket operation, he was a member of the 9th guard brigade, which was under General Norac. He said that before the operation, Grguric’s immediate superior Josip Krmpotic warned all soldiers they had to respect the laws and customs of war.

He also confirmed what several other witnesses said during this trial - that Croatian soldiers received small instruction books about war regulations before the operation started.

“Krmpotic said we shouldn’t destroy Serb property, nor burn their houses. As for prisoners of war and civilians, he said we shouldn’t kill them,” Grguric told the court.

On October 3, three former members of the 9th guard brigade also said they hadn’t witnessed any crimes being committed against civilians or enemy soldiers during this operation. They also said soldiers were instructed to respect the Geneva conventions.

Soldiers Srecko Maric, Marko Maric and Dinko Sekula told the court in Zagreb that Norac had personally warned them about respecting regulations. They also said Norac once ordered his subordinates to give food to three elderly Serb women who approached the Croat soldiers.

The trial will continue on October 9, when Kornelije Brkic, former head of medical corps at central command and Jargetic’s superior, will take the stand.

Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR reporter in Zagreb.