News 17 Oct 17

Arkan’s Masked Paramilitaries Accused of Croatia Killings

At the trial of former Serbian security chiefs Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, a prosecution witness said that paramilitary boss Arkan’s unit - allegedly controlled by the defendants - murdered Croats in 1991.

Radosa Milutinovic
BIRN
Belgrade
Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic in court. Photo: MICT.

A protected prosecution witness codenamed RFJ-157 testified at the Mechanism for International Tribunals in The Hague on Tuesday that a Serbian paramilitary unit led by Zeljko Raznatovic, alias Arkan, committed murders of Croats in the Eastern Slavonia area of Croatia in 1991.

Witness RFJ-157 said a minivan with licence plates from Novi Sad in Serbia, which was full of fighters whose faces were hidden by masks, arrived in the village of Klisa in November 1991.

According to the witness, the soldiers took five Croats from the village.

She found out later on that they were taken to the village of Erdut, where the Serbian Volunteer Guard, Arkan’s unit, was based.

RFJ-157 told the court that two Croats were released and “three were killed”.

She also said that two more local Croats were killed in Klisa.

When asked which Serb forces were present in Klisa, the witness said there were “Arkan’s and [Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav] Seselj’s men, as well as the regular [Yugoslav] army”.

Asked how their arrival affected Croats in Klisa, who made up ten percent of the local population, witness RFJ-157 said: “When we saw so many unknown men in the village, we, the Croats, became scared… We realised something bad was going to happen.”

Stanisic, the former chief of the Serbian State Security Service, SDB, and his former assistant Simatovic are charged with being responsible for the persecution, murder, deportation and forcible resettlement of Croat and Bosniak civilians during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

According to the charges, Arkan’s Serbian Volunteer Guard was controlled by the Serbian SDB.

Arkan was indicted for war crimes by the UN-backed court in The Hague but was shot dead in Belgrade in 2000 and never stood trial.

When asked by Stanisic’s defence lawyer how she knew that the masked Serb soldiers who took the Croat men from Klisa were Raznatovic’s fighters, the witness said she heard it from “several people”.

“They were taken to the winery in Erdut, where Arkan trained his men,” RFJ-157 said.

When asked whether she visited Erdut or saw Arkan, she said no.

“Nobody could see him or come close to him, because he was guarded by his men,” RFJ-157 said.

According to the charges, Stanisic and Simatovic were part of a joint criminal enterprise led by former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, aimed at forcibly and permanently removing Croats and Bosniaks from large parts of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to achieve Serb domination.

They both pleaded not guilty in December last year after the appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia overturned their acquittal in their first trial.

The appeals chamber ruled that there were serious legal and factual errors when Stanisic and Simatovic were initially acquitted of war crimes in 2013, and ordered the case to be retried and all the evidence and witnesses reheard in full by new judges.

The trial continues on Wednesday.

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