Sljivancanin Aide Dismissed Ovcara Rumours

But admits to witnessing violent behaviour by territorial defence troops prior to the massacre.

Sljivancanin Aide Dismissed Ovcara Rumours

But admits to witnessing violent behaviour by territorial defence troops prior to the massacre.

Saturday, 25 November, 2006
Veselin Sljivancanin’s assistant during the 1991 Vukovar operation this week told the tribunal that he had heard rumours about the massacre at Ovcara farm but neither believed them nor looked into them further.



Sljivancanin, along with former JNA officers Mile Mrksic and Miroslav Radic, is charged with overseeing the November 20 killings of 260 detainees taken from the Vukovar hospital to Ovcara. At Ovcara, they were allegedly humiliated and tortured for hours before being shot in a nearby ravine.



Though he didn’t believe the rumours of massacre circulating on November 21, former Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, officer Ljubisa Vukasinovic said he had witnessed violent and threatening behaviour by territorial defence, TO, troops in the days leading up to the killings.



He described one incident on November 20 at a JNA barracks on the way to the Serbian town of Sremska Mitrovica, where prisoners from Vukovar hospital were to be taken for further questioning.



Vukasinovic was in charge of escorting buses holding 100-150 detainees to the barracks, where they were to wait for the remaining buses from the hospital, after which they would all go together to Sremska Mitrovica.



However, when the convoy reached the barracks, 30-40 TO members surrounded the buses.



“[The TO] started protesting and uttering threats at the people in the buses they knew, their former neighbours, friends,” said Vukasinovic, adding that they had “scores to settle”.



The situation grew more inflamed when Sljivancanin arrived and asked Vukasinovic to separate out 20 people, whom he believed may not have been combatants or committed war crimes, said Vukasinovic.



After Sljivancanin left, Vukasinovic attempted to transfer the 20 to an empty bus so they could be taken back to the hospital. The TO bystanders, believing he was releasing them, attacked Vukasinovic and the other soldiers as they tried to reach the detainees, he said.



Vukasinovic stressed that JNA troops had neither threatened nor assaulted the detainees.



He said Sljivancanin was surprised when Vukasinovic told him about the incident and asked why the TO men had been at the barracks.



Sljivancanin’s defence has suggested that the massacre was the fault of unruly, vengeful TO members, claiming that the JNA had no part in it.



When Vukasinovic returned to the barracks with buses filled with the remaining detainees from the hospital, he said the buses holding the first group of prisoners were gone. The commander of a company of military police told him Mrksic had ordered that they be sent to Ovcara.



Vukasinovic testified that he took the new buses to Ovcara as well, and found some 15 TO members inside a hangar with first group of detainees who had “obviously been beaten”. He described them as “bloody, confused and afraid” and noted that about 40-50 TO men were milling around outside the hangar.



Vukasinovic said he spoke to Miroljub Vujovic, the TO commander, and enlisted his help and that of several military policemen in evicting the TO men from the hangar.



However, he criticised Vujovic, who received a 20-year sentence in 2005 from a Serbian court for his role in the massacre.



“He had a nonchalant appearance as though he was considering whether or not to help,” said Vukasinovic. “He kept saying it was really nothing. I told him it was quite serious…his men were not allowed to do anything physical to people under our jurisdiction.”



Vukasinovic said he told Vujovic he needed to remove any aggressive TO members from the area, because they were putting the prisoners at risk. After that, he said, a large number of TO men withdrew.



Vukasinovic said he then returned to Negoslavci, where his command post was based. He noted that he never saw Sljivancanin at Ovcara.



The next day, when he heard rumours of a massacre at Ovcara, he said he dismissed them.



“I heard children were roasted, babies slaughtered, many were found killed in a landfill,” he said. “I thought Ovcara was just another rumour of the same sort…A couple of days later I stopped thinking about it.”



But prosecutor Marks Moore suggested Vukasinovic ignored the rumours, because he had been complicit in the massacre.



“Without putting too fine a point on it, in many experts’ view you should have been indicted for offences at Ovcara,” said Moore.



Moore also questioned why Vukasinovic didn’t believe rumours about the massacre in light of the TO members’ behaviour and threats. He implied that Vukasinovic should have known those men were capable of the killings.



Additionally, he repeatedly asked Vukasinovic about his interaction with Mrksic and Sljivancanin on the evening of November 20.



Vukasinovic said he reported the incident with the TO members at Ovcara to both men. He said Mrksic listened and then dismissed him, while Sljivancanin praised him for ensuring the detainees’ safety.



After he had reported to Mrksic and Sljivancanin, Vukasinovic said he believed his responsibility for the prisoners’ safety had ended.



Vukasinovic said the person who ordered the military police to leave Ovcara on November 20 was the one responsible for the killings, but added that he did not know whom that person was.



He agreed with Moore that once the police were gone the people in the hangar were “completely unprotected”.



“I would like to know who ordered [the military police] to leave people I had put my life on the line for several times,” he said, referring to his interventions between the detainees and the TO. “This is the crux of the matter.”



Sljivancanin’s defence team will continue to present its case next week.



Katherine Boyle is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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