REGIONAL REPORT: Osijek Inquiry Pledged

State prosecutor promises to look into murders allegedly committed by Croatian troops in the east of the country, but some doubt the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

REGIONAL REPORT: Osijek Inquiry Pledged

State prosecutor promises to look into murders allegedly committed by Croatian troops in the east of the country, but some doubt the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

There are renewed hopes that the long called for prosecution of alleged Croat war crimes against Serbs in an eastern Croatian town may soon go ahead.

During a visit to The Hague last month, state prosecutor Mladen Bajic is said to have pledged to investigate crimes against Serbs in Osijek during the war, apparently under strong pressure from tribunal chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte.

However, there was no guarantee that, even if the investigation were launched, it would not be somehow thwarted in the same way as previous inquiries.

Probes into the killings had long been blocked by the former hard line administration of the late President Franjo Tudjman, partly because two of his most senior officials, Branimir Glavas and Vladimir Seks, seemed to be the main suspects in the case.

The new and more moderate administration that succeeded Tudjman in 2000 seemed almost equally reluctant to tackle the crimes.

At the time of the Osijek killings in the early Nineties, Glavas was chief of the town's defence department and Seks headed the so-called crisis headquarters, made up of local politicians and military leaders.

Though completely surrounded by hostile Serbs, Osijek was constantly under control of the Croatian army at the time of the murders between June 1991 and May 1992. After the war, Glavas was appointed head of the Osijek-Baranja district, and Seks became deputy speaker of the Croatian parliament.

During the war, there were three cases of mass killings documented by the independent media and non-governmental organisations. It's alleged that prosecutors subsequently concealed much of the evidence and claimed that there was not enough proof to bring anyone to trial.

No official version of Bajic's talks with Del Ponte have been published, but immediately after the meeting he issued his promise to begin an inquiry.

If Bajic really sticks to his pledge, then Glavas and Seks could soon find themselves under investigation. This would mark a distinct turning point in the policy of Prime Minister Ivica Racan's government.

In an interview with a high-circulation Croatian daily, Vecernji list, Bajic said that discussions about the aforementioned crimes had already been held with the prosecutor's office in Osijek.

Sources from the Osijek prosecution confirmed for IWPR that the participants in these talks focused on war crimes committed in eastern Croatia, but the source declined to say more.

Osijek stands on the left bank of the river Drava where, in December 1991, the bodies of eight men and one woman were washed ashore. All had been shot in the back of the head with their hands tied behind them.

Oncologist Milutin Kutlic, who worked in the Osijek Clinical Centre was one of the victims, as well as Simo Pocuca, a graphic designer and well-known local chess player. The latter was kidnapped from the house of his brother Janko, a politician of Serb nationality, and is thought to have been mistaken for him.

There was one surviving witness to the murders. Radoslav Ratkovic was also taken to the riverbank and shot in the head but somehow survived. At Osijek hospital, he gave a statement to the police describing the killers in very great detail. Later, he repeated his story on Television Novi Sad.

Another major crime that happened while Glavas was in charge of Osijek's defence took place at a house in Paulin Dvor. There, on the night December 11, 1991 Croatian soldiers murdered 19 locals - 18 of Serb nationality and one Hungarian who had sought shelter in the village.

These were mainly elderly people and women. All the victims were named in the book entitled Punishment Without a Crime by Vojin Dabic and Ksenija Lukic, published in 1997 by the Alliance of Vukovar women.

The authors claim that after the Paulin Dvor killings, Croatian soldiers transferred all the bodies to an unknown site and blew up the house. They reported that the site was later uncovered by Croatian authorities who refused to talk about it with their Yugoslav counterparts, despite pressure from the International Red Cross.

The Zagreb government's office for missing and exiled persons told IWPR that not a single person from Paulin Dvor was either discovered or identified.

At some time in the autumn of 1991 when the Croatian army was still holding positions east of Osijek, eight Serbs, four of them women, were killed in the village of Sarvas. Witnesses in the town claimed to have seen a truck carry off the bodies, again to an unknown location.

The Hague court is in possession of information and documents on these crimes. Some of the documents had been collected by the non-governmental organisations and forwarded to the tribunal investigators.

It appears probable that The Hague had urged the Croatian authorities to prosecute these crimes and that Bajic was asked to report on progress.

At the end of last year and beginning of this year, two Zagreb police inspectors spent several weeks in Osijek on a mission to establish in detail what happened in the town during 1991.They questioned many witnesses as well as potential suspects.

Police sources in Osijek claim that Radoslav Ratkovic, the sole Serb survivor of the Drava murders, also paid a visit to Osijek at the same time, where he again repeated his statement to police.

However, at the beginning of the year, deputy state prosecutor Dragan Novosel claimed it was impossible to launch an investigation into the Osijek crimes because there was not enough evidence.

Dragutin Hedl is a regular IWPR contributor.

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