Mrksic, Sljivancanin, Radic

Trial focuses on work of local radio journalists during the JNA siege of Vukovar.

Mrksic, Sljivancanin, Radic

Trial focuses on work of local radio journalists during the JNA siege of Vukovar.

Saturday, 3 December, 2005
A prosecution witness this week denied defence suggestions that journalists from Vukovar radio station disguised the presence of Croatian soldiers allegedly hiding in Vukovar hospital.

Three former Yugoslav army officers are charged with overseeing the execution of some 264 patients and civilians from the hospital in November 1991.

Zvezdana Polovina, who compiled reports for Vukovar’s radio station while the town was under siege by the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, this week described meeting and exchanging information between the members of Vukovar’s defence forces, crisis staff, and hospital doctors.

“A soldier would come to us, or we would meet somewhere, and we would learn which checkpoint he was at, what was happening there, who had survived, who was killed, and how far the lines of defence were laid down,” she said.

“They didn’t know what was happening elsewhere, so we would tell them what was going on in other parts of town.”

When Momcilo Bulatovic, defence counsel for Veselin Sljivancanin, suggested that Polovina was supplying the soldiers with “military information”, she acknowledged that this could have been the case.

The witness went on to describe how she and her colleagues had “very good relations” with Branko Borkovic, commander of the Vukovar city defence, and also liaised with Vesna Bosanac, director of Vukovar hospital, who was attempting to negotiate the safe evacuation of civilians from the town.

Polovina told the court that the radio station had received regular updates from the hospital about the number of wounded and dead, as well as details about medical supplies. This led Mira Tapuskovic, defence counsel for Miroslav Radic, to ask if the journalists were “placed at the disposal of the hospital” to disguise the presence of members of the Croatian City Guard, ZNG, allegedly hiding at the medical facility.

The witness denied this claim.

The prosecution maintain that the killing of Croats and other non-Serbs in Vukovar was part of a wider action by Serb forces to “forcibly expell” those who were not of Serb origin from Eastern Slavonia during the early stages of the war in Croatia.

The three accused, Mile Mrksic, Veselin Sljivancanin and Miroslav Radic, have been charged with five counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of violations of the laws or customs of war for their alleged involvement in the Vukovar massacre.

But defence teams argue that in fact it was the Serbian population of Vukovar that underwent persecution and individuals were removed from powerful posts in the town during a Croat nationalist drive by the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, in the early months of 1991.

The defence have frequently cited the fact that Radio Vukovar was changed to become “Croatian Radio Vukovar” in May 1991 as an example of this alleged nationalism.

However, lawyers for the accused noticeably avoided questioning the witness about an incident, on the day of the executions, in which the prosecution say Sljivancanin was involved in the process of separating men from women.

Polovina said that on the morning of November 20, groups of civilians waiting to be evacuated from Vukovar hospital were gathered in the hospital courtyard. Apparently, they were given orders to separate so that men were on the left, women and children on the right.

The witness claimed that when questioned by several women on why this was necessary, a “tall, slim man with a moustache and dark hair” who she identified as Sljivancanin, told them, “Don’t worry, [the men] are going for brief questioning at the barracks, they will join you later.”

Prosecutor Marks Moore said that this demonstrated a “deliberate attempt to isolate the men and placate the women”, and that “inferences could be made” from Sljivancanin’s reply.

One of the main prosecution arguments is that many of the men who were loaded onto JNA buses, including the witness’ husband, were not in fact returned to their families but taken to Ovcara before being shot and buried in a mass grave.

Sarlota Foro, a former Vukovar resident, who testified earlier this week, said that Sljivancanin was involved in another evacuation of local people.

Foro told the court that she was among a group of civilians who were taken from Mitnica, an area on the outskirts of Vukovar, on November 18, and driven in a convoy led by JNA vehicles to a plateau near Ovcara. Once the civilians had left their cars, she said Sljivancanin introduced himself and gave a lengthy speech.

“At the outset, [Sljivancanin] said that we, the citizens of Vukovar should know exactly why we were there; that they had liberated Vukovar; and that we had been killing his young boys,” she said.

But when asked by prosecutor Karim Agha Khan whether she felt liberated by the JNA, she replied, “I was living in my own town in my own house. Not at any point in time did I feel the need to be liberated or set free.”

The group of civilians was later taken to Sremska Mitrovica where they were imprisoned.

Helen Warrell is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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