REGIONAL REPORT: Croatian Massacre Inquiry Fears

The arrest of high-ranking right-wing officials linked to the Paulin Dvor killings could spark political turmoil.

REGIONAL REPORT: Croatian Massacre Inquiry Fears

The arrest of high-ranking right-wing officials linked to the Paulin Dvor killings could spark political turmoil.

Saturday, 31 August, 2002

Croatia faces severe political upheaval if it fulfils its pledge to The Hague war crimes tribunal and rounds up those suspected of the worst atrocity committed by Croatian forces during the war against Serbia.


State prosecutor Mladen Bajic has said it is a "absolute priority" to investigate the December 11, 1991, murders of 19 civilians - 18 Serbs and an Hungarian - in the village of Paulin Dvor, some 20 km south of Osijek.


All but one of the bodies were shipped 500 km across the country to Rizvanusa, near Gospic, where they were discovered in a mass grave this spring.


The chief suspects now hold important positions in the ultra-nationalist movement, and their arrest could cause uproar. But failure to act would offend The Hague and thereby damage Croatia's standing in the West.


In July, Carla Del Ponte, the tribunal's chief prosecutor, warned Bajic that a decision on whether the suspects should be tried in Croatia or in The Hague depended on how quickly the prosecution progressed.


Evidence so far points to the involvement of former senior intelligence service officials, including Miroslav Tudjman, son of the late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman.


As the former leader's son is now head of Croatia's extreme right, Prime Minister Ivica Racan knows there'll be a political storm if any connection between Tudjman and the events in Paulin Dvor can be proven.


The bodies of 18 civilians killed in Paulin Dvor - only one corpse had been found at the scene of the crime - were recently found with their identity documents packed in large plastic barrels at Rizvanusa. The discovery was made by an investigative team looking into another crime.


In the beginning of August, this journalist revealed how the bodies ended up at Rizvanusa in an IWPR report.


All but one of the Paulin Dvor victims had been transported to a large military warehouse near Lug, 10 km from Osijek, where they were secretly entombed, according a former senior official in the Service for the Protection of the Constitutional Order - a civilian intelligence service.


The warehouse had once belonged to the Yugoslav People's Army, JNA, but was taken over by the Croatian military at the beginning of the war in September 1991, along with many other such facilities.


Three days after the massacre, JNA units and Serb paramilitaries seized Paulin Dvor, finding only one body, that of Dara Vujnovic, some distance from the house in which the other 18 civilians had been killed.


The bodies were kept hidden at the Lug warehouse until January 1997, when senior intelligence officials, at a secret meeting with military officials in Osijek, agreed to transport the remains to Rizvanusa, said the source.


The source - backed by statements of witnesses who wish to remain anonymous - said the Osijek meeting, held on January 14, was chaired by Miroslav Tudjman, who was then head of the Croatian Intelligence service HIS - the main arm of the National Security Department, UNS, which oversees the work of all the country's secret services.


IWPR approached Tudjman, but he declined to answer questions about his involvement in this operation.


The bodies were moved from Lug because it was feared that Hague investigators, who were in Croatia at the time, might discover the warehouse tomb, the source said.


After the Osijek meeting, the warehouse was closed for three days while the bodies were apparently exhumed and packed into plastic barrels, which Croatian army engineers from Karlovac transported to Rizvanusa, said a member of Croatian army who was there at the time.


Quite apart from the horror of the crime, it was embarrassing for Croatia to discover that former leaders had sought to cover up the massacre.


Investigations are said to have uncovered the names of other suspects - many of them Croatian soldiers from Vladislavci village close to Paulin Dvor. Sources close to the Osijek police suggest they could be arrested any day now, before the arrival of Hague investigators later this month.


But it remains uncertain what action the police and judiciary would take against Miroslav Tudjman, if he were to be officially named as a suspect in the case.


Tudjman is head of the Movement for Croatia's Identity and Prosperity, HIP, an extreme-right nationalist party, mostly comprising ex-secret services members and former military leaders.


HIP led the movement against the extradition of General Ante Gotovina, a Hague suspect and fugitive. It also organised large demonstrations across the country after the arrest of General Mirko Norac, currently standing trial in Rijeka accused of war crimes committed against Serb civilians in Gospic in 1991.


Drago Hedl is a regular IWPR contributor in Osijek


Serbia, Croatia
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