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Yugoslav Army Insider Speaks of Vukovar Atrocities

Former officer says the accused hinted in advance that prisoners captured from the town’s hospital would be slaughtered.
By Goran Jungvirth
A former officer of the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, has told Hague tribunal judges that he witnessed firsthand the vicious mistreatment of prisoners captured in the Croatian town of Vukovar in 1991 and received forewarning that many would be executed.

Bogdan Vujic, who belonged to JNA military intelligence at the time, was sent to Vukovar to transport detainees who were being held there to a prison camp at Sremska Mitrovica in Serbia.

He recalled meeting Veselin Sljivancanin, who is now standing trial along with two other ex-JNA officers, Mile Mrksic and Miroslav Radic, for their alleged roles in the murders of at least 264 Croats taken captive at the Vukovar hospital.

The witness said that Sljivancanin told him he was in charge of evacuating the hospital. He also heard from Sljivancanin that concealed among the wounded and civilians there were many “Ustashe” – a term strictly meaning Croatian Nazi collaborators in the Second World War, but used at this time as a pejorative for Croatian nationalist paramilitaries – and said Vujic should not be surprised if such people were slaughtered.

After the meeting with Sljivancanin, at which Mrksic was apparently also present, Vujic visited a storehouse owned by the Velepromet company, which was being used as a holding centre for detainees. Apart from the main execution site at a farm in nearby Ovcara, witnesses have identified this as another location where prisoners were murdered.

Vujic said he succeeded in evacuating prisoners from the Velepromet site, but ran into difficulty when he approached Serb paramilitaries who were holding some 40 Croats in one part of the facility.

“I saw lots of prisoners in a room with bloody heads, many of them with their ears or nose cut off,” the witness said. He also recalled seeing paramilitaries robbing them.

When Vujic indicated that he wanted to evacuate the group, this was refused with the explanation that these individuals too were “Ustashe”. One Serb fighter, who went by the nickname Topola, became aggressive, putting a knife to Vujic’s throat and telling him, “You will die as well as the rest of the Ustashe”.

Vujic said he responded by grabbing his gun and shouting at the man that the detainees “might have been Ustashe until they surrendered but now they are prisoners of war”. One of Vujic’s men then led Topola away.

A man going by the name Topola has been described previously in the trial by another witness, who remembered him as a local paramilitary who walked around the Velepromet site carrying the severed heads of prisoners.

Eventually, Vujic succeeded in evacuating the prisoners in question from the storage facility on a military bus. Later, in 1998, however, a colleague told him that he had heard the vehicle was intercepted by paramilitaries and redirected to the Ovcara execution site. The names of a handful of prisoners which Vujic remembered feature on the list of those who are said to have died there.

The witness told the court that after the evacuation of these prisoners, the late Serbian paramilitary commander Zeljko Raznatovic –who gained notoriety during the Bosnian conflicts under his nom de guerre Arkan – arrived at the Velepromet storehouse. “I was worried about this because wherever Arkan came, there were consequences,” Vujic said.

In what Vujic said was a heated confrontation, Arkan, carrying a gun, shouted at him for transporting the detainees to the Sremska Mitrovica prison, and demanded that he return them. Arkan claimed that the group included criminals, including a woman he said had killed 50 children.

Vujic also recalled having to justify the evacuation of prisoners to local Serb politicians during a tense meeting called by the mayor of Vukovar, Slavko Dokmanovic, who has since appeared before the Hague tribunal on war crimes charges.

“I was a hostage there,” he told the court, adding, “I was scared for my life.”

Defence lawyers will have a chance to cross-examine Vujic when the trial resumes next week.

Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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