Mrskic, Radic and Sljivancanin

Prosecution provides evidence of selection of hospital patients for execution.

Mrskic, Radic and Sljivancanin

Prosecution provides evidence of selection of hospital patients for execution.

Monday, 28 November, 2005
A prosecution witness in the trial of three former Yugoslav army, JNA, officers claimed this week that two of the accused Mile Mrksic and Veselin Sljivancanin had ordered the selection of Vukovar hospital patients who were later executed.

He also testified how the third man on trial Miroslav Radic had described a group of young males being led away from the hospital as “dead men”.

Mrksic, Radic and Sljivancanin, known as the “Vukovar Three”, have been charged with five counts of crimes against humanity and three of violations of the laws or customs of war for their alleged role in the murder of at least 264 Croats and other non-Serbs taken from the Vukovar hospital in November 1991.

The protected witness, known only as P-16, gave his testimony behind a screen and with his voice electronically distorted.

The witness told the court that he visited the hospital on November 18, 1992, the day before the alleged massacre.

“What really stunned me,” he said, was a group of 15-20 young men, some with bandages, who were being stretchered out of the building by military police.

They were clean-shaven, in light-blue striped pyjamas. “They looked very neat to me, as though this wasn’t war and as though it wasn’t Vukovar,” he continued.

As he stood next to Captain Radic watching the men, P-16 remarked for no special reason “look at them, look how nice-looking and clean-shaven they are”.

“These are dead men,” Radic replied.

P-16 told the court his reaction was a knee-jerk one, “I said, ‘these people are alive’.”

“No, you can’t see right,” Radic said. “These people are dead.”

The witness said this made him very uncomfortable, and he left the hospital

In a small park, he came across a “shocking image”, of about 80 bodies, “lined up…covered in transparent foil”.

He testified to taking photographs of the pile, most of whom were civilians. When he had asked who were the people piled in the park, a woman told him they had died in the hospital and couldn’t be properly buried because of the war.

With his colleagues, he travelled to the far end of town, where, in a parking lot, JNA officers were at about 20 tables, labelled “Reception centre”. Each officer was making a list of people’s names.

“[Those on the list] were given food and bread following which they were herded onto buses,” P-16 told the court.

As the scene was cleared, P-16 said he saw a group of about 200 people across the street near a coal warehouse, “There was a lady standing there, she grabbed my hand and I could feel her trembling and she asked ‘what will become of us, mister?’”

He said he tried to soothe the woman, though he had no idea what was going to happen to them. He recalled telling her, “There’s no problem at all. Once they’re done with the Serbs you will be next in line to be evacuated.

“Where they actually ended up. I don’t know.”

The indictment alleges that Mrksic, as commander of the JNA’s Operational Group South, was initially responsible for the evacuation of the Vukovar hospital.

Mrksic then allegedly ordered Sljivancanin, the group’s security officer, to take over the evacuation. Radic, who was in charge of three assault groups under Mrksic’s command, was apparently well known to be Sljivancanin’s right-hand man.

P-16 testified that a JNA officer, whose name he was unable to remember, told him that Radic and Sljivancanin had “assigned the officers who made the selection of the people in the hospital”, who were then transported “to be killed in wasteland”. Later he said he learnt that the wasteland was Ovcara farm.

The defence challenged the witness over why he couldn’t remember the man’s name, and why he hadn’t named him when giving an earlier statement to the prosecution. The witness said that at the time he didn’t “want him to get in trouble”.

The following day, November 19, witness P-16 visited Borovo Naselje, a small town in the Vukovar municipality, where he saw paramilitaries “torching and looting” buildings.

The witness described looking into a yard and seeing the bodies of an elderly woman and her son, who apparently had been trying to protect her. He also saw the body of a child with a bullet hole in its forehead.

Further down the street, P-16 said he saw more bodies of children and families. He said they looked to have been intentionally killed.

Explaining why he felt a need to testify, P-16 said, “You have this revolt that boils up in you.”

And in the context of the propaganda he heard after the war, the witness told the court, “That’s their truth. But you know very well that that’s not how it was. You were there, you saw it all happen and it is your duty to tell that truth and I think that that is the most humane thing that a man can do.”

Adrienne N Kitchen is an IWPR intern in The Hague.
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