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Witnesses Describe Finding Murdered Relatives

Zagreb trial of Croat generals hears grisly details of atrocities allegedly committed by their troops.
A Serb man told a war crimes court in Zagreb this week how he found the body of his murdered 68-year-old mother lying next to a dead pig two weeks after Croatian forces seized control of her village in 1993.

The old woman had been shot once in the back of the neck, and several times in the chest, and had also been cut on the fingers of her right hand, according to the witness, whose name was not divulged for his own protection.

His mother was one of 29 Serb civilians allegedly murdered by Croatian forces after they captured the so-called Medak pocket, a small area in the south of the country, in September 1993.

Prosecutors at the Zagreb County Court accuse troops under the command of Generals Mirko Norac and Rahim Ademi of killing the civilians, along with five captured Serb soldiers.

Norac and Ademi are on trial for war crimes allegedly committed by Croatian troops under their command.

This week, the son of the woman, identified as BP, said he was directed to her body by a Croatian woman who said she had heard his mother shout to soldiers that she was not guilty of anything.

"If you are not guilty why are you running?" the soldiers had responded, the Croatian woman reportedly told the man.

The witness also testified to having seen murdered villagers laid out for identification.

The village’s defence guards had been very weak, he said, and couldn’t have defended it against a determined attack.

“If the Croatian army had known how many of them were there they could have walked in whenever they wanted,” he said.

The daughter of another victim, whose name was also withheld for security reasons, said this week that her 71-year-old father had been bludgeoned to death in the village of Vujinovici, and then thrown into a cesspool in the town of Gospic.

The wife of the victim testified that she had received that information from the United Nations and that they later handed over his remains for burial.

Both witnesses stated that they wanted reparations from the Croatian generals for the killing of their relative.

Their testimony differed from that of defence witness Zdravko Vladanovic, a retired officer of the Croatian army and former adviser to Janko Bobetko, chief of the general staff.

“The generals are war heroes and that they were fulfilling their constitutional tasks,” he said.

Vladanovic, who spoke in detail about his close relationship with Bobetko, said the former head of the general staff “was a very vain man” and referred to himself as the mastermind behind the Medak Pocket operation intended to drive out rebel Serb forces occupying the area.

While all defence witnesses who appeared agreed that there had been no deliberate destruction of property by Croatian troops during the offensive, they gave differing accounts over who had been in ultimate control of the military operation.

Stevo Prazic, a member of Norac’s 9th Guard Brigade, said Ademi had been in charge of the Medak pocket operation, with Norac receiving orders from him.

At the beginning of the week, the trial heard the testimony of Renata Dobi-Babic, former head of the Rijeka Institute for Forensic Medicine, who said that she had not seen a single body bearing the marks of torture.

She had examined 51 bodies, of which 46 had been men in uniform and the rest had been women in civilian clothes. She said she had not seen a single woman’s body showing the signs of rape.

Zeljko Lucic and Latif Huremovic, former members of the 9th Guard Brigade also testified.

They said that Ljiljana Jelaca, one of the women listed as a civilian casualty, had been a combatant who accidentally killed herself.

According to the witnesses, Jelaca had been among three uniformed members of a tank crew that they had attempted to disarm.

They told the three uniformed members to lie on the ground in front of the tank, at which moment Jelaca activated a hand grenade which she then attempted to throw at the tank, wounding Lucic and Huremovic and killing herself.

Unlike previous witnesses, the two said they did not recall being instructed by their superiors on how to treat prisoners of war.

“But no one told us that anyone needed to be killed,” said Huremovic.

The trial continues next week.

Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR journalist in Zagreb.

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