Petar Ciric, a former member of a Serbian voluntary unit, pleaded not guilty for war crimes committed at the Ovcara farm, near the Croatian town of Vukovar, in 1991.
|Petar Ciric at the begining of the 1990s conflict I Photo courtesy of Serbian War Crime Prosecutor's Office|
The former member of the Territorial Defence of the town of Vukovar, Petar Ciric, also known as Pero Cigan, has appeared on Thursday for the first time before the Special Court in Belgrade.
The Serbian War Crime Prosecution charged him on October 25 with taking part in the murder of at least 193 prisoners of war on November 21, 1991, at the Ovcara farm.
“The accused was engaged in a campaign of abuse of the prisoners, who were forced to run between two lines of soldiers on their way to the barn. He was standing in one of the lines, kicked and hit the prisoners as they passed, causing them serious injuries,” Dejan Knezevic, the prosecutor in the case, said while explaining the indictment.
After the prisoners had been listed and divided into groups, each group was loaded into a truck and transported to Grabovo, a site approximately 1 km away from Ovcara.
The prosecutor said that Ciric was a part of a firing squad at Grabovo, where the prisoners were lined up and shot.
“On his return to Ovcara from Grabovo, the accused took part in the execution of the last remaining group of around ten captives, who were shot to death in front of the barn,” Knezevic added.
In response to the prosecution’s opening statements, Petar Ciric pleaded not guilty.
Ciric said that he was a member of Serbian voluntary units engaged in the area of Vukovar, especially the area of Petrova Gora, but that he has never been to Ovcara and that, to this day, he does not know where the farm is located.
Following the fall of the Croatian town of Vukovar in November 19, 1991, several hundred prisoners were executed at the nearby Ovcara farm.
Vukovar was the first town in Europe to be destroyed by fighting since the end of World War II.
In 1991, the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, and Serbian paramilitary units encircled the Croatian town of Vukovar following Croatia’s declaration of independence from Yugoslavia.
Some 7,000 missiles fell daily on the town throughout a three-month siege, which destroyed about 85 per cent of the buildings.
Over 3,000 people were killed, while thousands of non-Serbs were expelled.
Vukovar remained under Serbian control until 1995. After the 1995 Dayton Accord ended the war in Bosnia the so-called Erdut Agreement placed the Vukovar region under the UN administration for two years prior to its reintegration with Croatia in 1998.
This is the forth case that the Serbian judiciary is prosecuting for the crimes committed at the Ovcara farm. In previous trials 15 people were found guilty for war crimes and sentenced to a total of 207 years in prison.
For the Ovcara farm crimes the Hague Tribunal sentenced Mile Mrksic and Veselin Sljivancanin, both colonels of the Yugoslav People’s Army, to 20 and ten years of prison, respectively.
The trial will resume on December 3.