News 26 Oct 17

Defence Seeks Serbs’ Acquittal for Burning Croatian Village

The defence claimed that the evidence heard during the trial of three Serb fighters had not proved they burned down a Croatian village in 1991, while the prosecution called for convictions.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Zagreb County Court. Photo:Suradnik 13/Wikimedia Commons

The defence and the prosecution gave their closing statements before Zagreb county court on Thursday in the trial of Nikola Ladjevic, Predrag Radisic and Dean Tisma, all former members of the 2nd Battalion of the armed forces of the Republic of Serbian Krajina, an unrecognised wartime Serb statelet.

The three men are being tried for burning and destroying houses in the village of Nova Derencina, which was almost completely populated by Croats, in October 1991.

They are being tried in absentia, as they are presumed to be living outside Croatia.

Visnja Galesic, the defence lawyer for Ladjesic, who was the alleged commander of the 4th platoon of the battalion, stated that although “it isn’t disputed that the village was burned down and that it was committed by unknown perpetrators or Serb paramilitaries”.

But she said the court “didn’t establish beyond reasonable doubt” that it was committed by members of this particular platoon.

She noted that some of the witnesses claimed that other Serb villagers joined the unit and were potentially responsible for some of the arson.

Galesic further claimed that there was no physical evidence – documentation or orders – which would prove that Ladjevic was indeed the commander.

She said that means he is not responsible for not preventing or sanctioning the crimes committed by his alleged subordinates.

She also pointed to photographs presented as evidence that showed how defendant Tisma “was a part of a unit that wore an insignia with four Cyrillic ‘S’ letters with a white eagle”.

She said that this signifies that perpetrators were part of the White Eagles, a paramilitary unit linked to the Serbian Radical Party.

Galesic concluded that in Nova Derencina, the White Eagles were subordinate to the Serbian paramilitary commander Dragan Vasiljkovic, better known as Captain Dragan .

She said she derived this conclusion from photographs in which Vasiljkovic is posing with the alleged perpetrators of the arson.

Ladjevic was allegedly the commander of the platoon and Radisic and Tisma his subordinates when Serb troops attacked the village in October 1991, after the Croat defence of the nearby town of Petrinja had been defeated.

According to witnesses who were members of the Croatian Army, the Serbs attacked the village, burning houses and barns. During the attack, tanks also destroyed houses, the witnesses said.

Croat soldiers first retreated and then came back to found the village half-burned.

Then Serb forces attacked again and burned around 80 out of some 120 houses in the village.

Two elderly Croat women are claimed to have survived the attack.

The main evidence against Tisma is a letter he wrote to his brother in November 1991, in which he allegedly talks about the crimes.

But Tisma’s defence lawyer, Frane Bobinac, said that there should be a graphological analysis of the letter to establish if the defendant really wrote it.

Bobinac also said that “there isn’t a single piece of direct evidence” that points to the fact that the accused committed the crime.

A representative of the Croatian state attorney’s office told the court meanwhile said the evidence and witnesses pointed “to the fact that Ladjevic was the commander of the platoon”.

She said that paramilitary Nikola Simic made a statement saying that “on September 21, 1991, he was transferred to the unit commanded by Ladjevic… and that they went to the village, setting it on fire”.

The Croatian state attorney’s office claims that although Ladjevic knew about the crimes being committed, he did not do anything to prevent them or to sanction the perpetrators.

It also claims that witnesses recognised Radisic burning down houses from photos. The main evidence against Tisma is the letter to his brother.

The verdict will be announced on Tuesday.

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