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

Serb Forces Worked Together to Sack Croatian Town

“Everyone was involved," former Serbian security officer says.
By Velma Šarić

A protected witness in the trial of Goran Hadzic said this week that Serb forces drawn from both Serbia and Croatia plundered the eastern Croatian town of Dalj in 1991.

Hadzic, who was the political leader of rebel Serb entities in Croatia during the conflict, is charged with 14 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against Croats and other non-Serbs, including persecution, extermination, murder, imprisonment, torture, inhumane acts, cruel treatment, deportation, wanton destruction and plunder.

During the war in Croatia in the early 1990s, Hadzic held senior political positions in Serb-held parts of the country. He headed the government of the self-declared Serbian Autonomous District of Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srem, and from February 1992 to December 1993 was president of the Republic of Serb Krajina, which had absorbed the autonomous district.

He is alleged to have been part of a joint criminal enterprise with other political and military officials – including the then Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic – the purpose of which was the “permanent forcible removal of a majority of the Croat and other non-Serb population from approximately one-third of the territory of the Republic of Croatia” in order to create a Serb-dominated state.

The witness who appeared this week was an officer in Serbia’s security service during the events now before the court. He testified under the codename GH-015, and voice and image distortion was used to protect his identity. Most of his evidence was presented in closed session.

GH-015 previously testified in the Hague trial of Slobodan Milosevic, before the latter’s death in 2006. That testimony has been admitted into evidence at Hadzic’s trial. The same witness has also given testimony in the ongoing trial of Jovica Stanisic, wartime security service chief in Serbia.

This week, in the part of his testimony that was open to the public, GH-015 told the court what happened in Dalj after it was taken by Serb forces in 1991.

"When Serb troops came in, they plundered and took away whatever there was to be taken," he said, saying that it was a "general campaign and that everyone was involved".

"There was a very close cooperation between all Serb troops involved," he said. "The police, the JNA [Yugoslav People’s Army], the [Serb] rebels – all was one joint effort."

"The rebels' checkpoints were being secured both by JNA troops and the local police," he added.

The witness said that in 1991, Stanisic came to Dalj, “which served as an operative centre for the government of Krajina". He said Stanisic was accompanied by Zeljko Raznatovic aka Arkan, a Serbian paramilitary leader who was indicted by the Hague tribunal in March 1999, but was assassinated in Belgrade the following year.

Raznatovic commanded an irregular militia known as Arkan’s Tigers, which was allegedly financed by the Serbian state security service.

"I also saw Arkan and Hadzic together, at the police station in Dalj,” the witness said. “They were taking Croat prisoners to some place, but I couldn't possibly say where."

"Nine of these prisoners were executed later on," he added.

Prosecutors showed video footage from a rally held in Eastern Slavonia in 1991, from which GH-015 identified Goran Hadzic and a politician from Serbia called Milan Paroski.

In the video, Paroski is shown describing local Croats and Hungarians as "newcomers who'll have to pack and leave", adding that "if they don't, they should be chased and killed like dogs".

The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.