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Vojvodina Ethnic Cleansing Testimony

He said Serb forces began expelling non-Serbs from village shortly after Vojislav Seselj’s appearance.
By Simon Jennings
A witness told the trial of Vojislav Seselj this week that a campaign of ethnic cleansing began in his village just after the accused gave a speech there.



Aleksa Ejic, from the village of Hrtkovci in the Vojvodina region of Serbia, said that supporters of the ultra-nationalist leader’s Serbian Radical Party, SRS, grew in number there after Seselj’s appearance.



“The number increased after the rally that was held when Dr Vojislav Seselj came to our town on May 6 1992,” said Ejic, who was the local president of nationalist political party the Serbian Renewal Movement, SPO, in 1991 and 1992 and still lives in Hrtkovci today.



The witness told the court that as many as 1,000 Serb refugees – equivalent to the existing population of the village – arrived in Hrtkovci from parts of Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo at this time.



According to Ejic, Croat and Hungarian residents fled the village after Seselj’s rally and Serb refugees began to occupy the houses of those who had left.



“They started entering houses of residents who were absent. There were cases of violent entry and occupation of those houses,” he said.



Ejic said that some people were driven out of their homes.



“There were also many residents who were evicted from their own homes. There were cases of threats and even physical violence and residents were afraid,” he told the court.



Seselj is charged with making inflammatory speeches in the media and at public events during 1991-2 in his bid to recruit volunteers to help realise the goal of a Greater Serbia. He is accused of “calling for the expulsion of Croat civilians from parts of the Vojvodina region in Serbia”.



Prosecutors allege that Seselj made an inflammatory speech at Hrtkovci on May 6, 1992, demanding that Croats leave the area and go to Croatia. After his speech, Seselj’s supporters “began a campaign of ethnic cleansing directed at non-Serbs, particularly Croats, in Hrtkovci”, says the indictment.



According to the prosecution’s charges, Croat homes were then looted and the houses of those who were forced to leave were occupied by Serbs displaced from other parts of the former Yugoslavia.



This week, the witness’s memory was hazy when it came to the speech itself. Prosecutor Calogero Ferrara asked him to read extracts from a transcript of the speech and confirm that this is what Seselj had said – but Ejic was uncertain.



“I remember these sentences, but I cannot say with 100 per cent certainty [whether] that is what I heard at the rally or that I heard it on television,” he said.



Ejic read an extract in which Seselj is quoted as saying that Croats should be expelled from Hrtkovci, and Serbia, and Serbian refugees should move into their houses.



“All the rest must clear out of Serbia, including those from here, Hrtkovci, who locked up their houses and left, reckoning they will come back one day. Our message to them is you have nowhere to come back to,” read the witness.



According to Ejic, Seselj presented the plan to remove Croats in a humane way, saying that they could have the homes of those Serbs who had left Croatia. He reportedly spoke of organising buses to transport Croats out of the country, and providing them sandwiches for the journey back “to their homeland”.



At the beginning of his cross-examination, Seselj seemed to contend that it was Ejic’s political party – the SPO – which was responsible for the unrest in Hrtkovci during 1991 and 1992.



“So the prevalent view in Hrtkovci was that the SPO organised all these incidents and negative phenomena, right?” he put to the witness, referring to the threats and violence that forced the Croats out.



The witness admitted that when these incidents first began taking place, people in the area considered the local SPO office responsible. However, he added that such a view did not last long.



Seselj suggested the witness had dissolved the SPO in 1992 on the orders of its headquarters in Belgrade “to erase all traces of the participation of [the] local committee in the mistreatment of the local Croatian population when many refugees were coming in”.



Ejic denied this. “That’s an invention,” he replied.



Seselj tried to show that the address in Hrtkovci was not held to whip up nationalism, but was “first and foremost a pre-election rally”, pointing to the federal and local elections that took place in Serbia in late May 1992.



“That’s how it was billed,” said the witness.



Seselj then asked Ejic whether, as the prosecution alleges in their pre-trial brief, he said in his speech that mixed marriages between Croats and Serbs should be dissolved and their children killed.



The witness denied that Seselj had said this, “I did not hear of any such thing.”



Ejic chose to forgo protective measures to testify in Seselj’s trial in spite of alleging to have been threatened in a back street of his village before coming to The Hague.



“A threat was issued against me in the following vein, ‘Be careful, think of where you are supposed to go’. I did not engage in conversation and continued on my bicycle,” Ejic told the court.



In July this year, the prosecution asked the trial chamber to order that Seselj, who is representing himself, be assigned a defence counsel because he was obstructing the trial and “his defence associates [were] interfering with witnesses”.



According to Ejic, it was an open secret in Hrtkovci that he would testify in The Hague as a protected witness.



“After realising that half of my town knew that I would be a witness, I decided to change that and testify in public,” he told the court.



Ejic also said he had been asked by a member of Seselj’s SRS to testify for the defence. The witness said he had refused.



Zeljko Dosen, the SRS leader in Hrtkovci, had also telephoned his daughter since his arrival in The Hague, offering her a job, he said.



“He said they could help me… give my daughter a job and proposals like that,” said Ejic.



Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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