news 26 Nov 12

Kandic Voices Surprise at Generals' Acquittal

Natasa Kandic, head of the Humanitarian law center, paid homage to the victims of the 1991 Vukovar massacre on Saturday - while expressing surprise at the recent acquittals of the two Croatian generals in The Hague.

Boris Pavelic

Kandic has represented the families of the victims of the 1991 Vukovar massacre at the trials of the suspects in Belgrade.

Serbian forces killed about 260 wounded Croatian prisoners in the nearby Ovcara farm on November 19-20, 1991, after seizing the eastern Croatian border town.

It was the worst single mass killing in Croatia's independence war from 1991 to 1995, and the first war crime to occur in Europe since the end of World War II.

The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, ICTY, sentenced Mile Mrksic and Veselin Sljivancanin, colonels of the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, to 20 and ten years respectively for their roles in the crime.

Courts in Belgrade have since convicted 15 others for the same crime, sentencing them to a total of 207 years in prison. Trials are ongoing in Belgrade.

After paying homage to the victims of the massacre, Kandic spoke critically of the recent ruling of the ICTY appeals court, which acquitted former Croatian Army generals Ante Gotovina and Mladan Markac of war crimes in 1995 during "Operation Storm".

A first-instance ruling in 2011 sentenced them to 24 and 18 years respectively for deliberately targeting the Serbian civilian population of the Krajina region of southwest Croatia in the operation.

 "When the first verdict [in 2011] was issued, my impression was that it fitted the facts, that there was a state plan for expelling the Serbs," Kandic said.

Other factors matched the witness and victim statements, including transcripts of former Croatian President Franjo Tudjman's meeting with the two generals and laws that impeded the return of the Serbs to Croatia, she said.

Turning to the recent appeal verdict, she said it was "strange that the appeal chamber rejected all other evidence together with the main [evidence]".

However, She recalled that both the Croatian President and Prime Minister had emphasised since the verdict that the Croatian state bore responsibility to the victims of Operation Storm.

She said that the number of victims of the war in Croatia was approximately known, and that about 12,000 Croats and between 6,500 and 7,000 Serbs died.

"Those numbers have to be documented by name, and te names must serve as a memorial to the victims of war crimes as well as a remembrance of those who died in legal combat actions," Kandic said.

"This is the way towards reconciliation," Kandic added.

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