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

Witnesses Say Radic Not Present at Vukovar Massacre

Defence witnesses offer an alibi for the Serb officer accused of killings at Ovcara farm.
By Katherine Boyle
The defence team for the former Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, officer Miroslav Radic attempted to reinforce their client’s claims that he was not involved in the massacre of some 260 Croats and other non-Serbs taken from the Vukovar hospital on November 20, 1991, and that he wasn’t even aware that the killings took place that day.

The lawyers called witnesses who corroborated testimony Radic gave last week in his own defence, in which he claimed he couldn’t have participated in the executions, because he attended a dinner party in Vukovar on that day, celebrating the Serbs’ conquest of this town.

The witnesses also said Radic was not in command of the soldiers responsible for the massacre at Ovcara.

Radic, along with fellow JNA officers Mile Mrksic and Veselin Sljivancanin, is charged with overseeing the killings of some 260 Croat patients and civilians from the Vukovar hospital, after the town was overrun by Serb forces.

According to the indictment, Radic and Sljivancanin personally participated in the selection of detainees who were loaded onto buses in the morning of November 20 and transported to the Ovcara farm. Detainees were humiliated and abused there for hours, the indictment further alleges, and in the evening, they were executed at a site near Ovcara, by “JNA and Serb paramilitary troops under the command and supervision of Colonel Mile Mrksic, Captain Miroslav Radic [and] Major Veselin Sljivancanin”.

After the killings, the bodies were buried by a bulldozer in a mass grave at the same site.

Last week, Radic told the court he had found about the massacre a year after it happened. He said he spent the entire evening of November 20 at a dinner party hosted by Davor Vuckovic, a platoon commander of the mortar battalion, unaware of the executions that were taking place at Ovcara. He also told the court that prosecution witnesses, who claimed they had discussed the killings with Radic the next morning, were “fabricating things”.

This week, JNA officer Zoran Zirojevic, a company commander alongside Radic in the Guards Motorized Brigade, supported Radic’s testimony and told the judges that the accused spent the entire night of November 20 at a dinner held at Vuckovic’s residence.

He described the dinner, which occurred two days after the November 18 fall of Vukovar, as an “opportunity to relax after a long time, without worrying about possible attacks”.

During the cross-examination of the witness, the prosecution emphasised that Zirojevic had no written record, such as a diary, of the dinner ever having occurred, and said that he was in court “to help his friend”, Radic.

Vuckovic himself appeared in court on October 17 as a defence witness and confirmed that Radic and Zirojevic attended his dinner celebration, which, he claimed, lasted until daybreak.

He refuted prosecution suggestions that Radic left the party around midnight and went to his command post, where he was informed about the massacre. The witness said it was “impossible that Radic left earlier [than dawn] because everyone left together”.

Prosecutor Marks Moore implied that Vuckovic was trying to protect Radic because he looked upon the defendant as a younger brother.

“You say you owe your life to Radic on two occasions?” Moore asked Vuckovic.

“Yes,” said Vuckovic. “It is also correct that he owes me his life on several occasions.”

Additionally, witnesses for the defence attempted to prove this week that Radic was not technically in command of the soldiers who committed the massacre and was merely supposed to pass orders on from his superiors, including Mrksic, who could be implicated in Radic’s defence.

“Radic could not take any initiative of his own because there was no such thing in the Guards’ Brigade,” said Zirojevic. “He behaved in accordance with the tasks he received from battalion commanders.”

And Bozidar Forca, a military expert witness who testified on October 18, described Radic as a “little, insignificant commander” at Vukovar.

“Captain Miroslav Radic was not the superior” of the soldiers who massacred the Croats and other non-Serbs from Vukovar hospital, said Forca.

Sljivancanin’s defence team will start presenting their case next week and they are expected to finish by December 8, 2006.

Katherine Boyle is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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