News 12 May 17

Serb Fighters Deny Ordering Croats into Minefield

Defence lawyers said in closing arguments at Belgrade Special Court that five former Serb fighters weren’t involved in using civilians from the Croatian village of Lovas as human mine-detectors in 1991.

Vanja Djuric
BIRN
Belgrade
The village of Lovas. Photo: Wikimedia/Panoramio.com

Lawyers for ex-fighters Radovan Vlajkovic, Radisav Josipovic, Darko Peric, Jovan Dimitrijevic and Sasa Stojanovic told Belgrade Special Court on Thursday that they should not be found guilty of using Croats from the village of Lovas to walk through a minefield on October 18, 1991 due to a lack of evidence.

“An evidentiary hearing didn’t show that he [Radovan Vlajkovic] perpetrated this illegal order and inhumane treatment. His only connection with this is his presence there [in Lovas] on October 17 and 18, which is not enough [for a conviction]. Presence is not a crime,” Vlajkovic’s lawyer Boris Zorko said in his closing arguments.

He added that his client didn’t participate in rounding up the civilians who were taken to the minefield.

The indictment alleges that Vlajkovic and Radisav Josipovic, who were military officials with Serb territorial defence forces, were given an order to use civilians as a human shield in minefield on October 18, 1991.

It claims that Vlajkovic and Josipovic came to village’s agricultural centre with around 50 of their men, then were joined later by the ‘Dusan the Great’ paramilitary unit.

They choose around 50 civilians, who had previously been detained and injured, and told them to walk towards a nearby field to check where the mines were, the prosecution alleged.

When they got there, members of the ‘Dusan the Great’ paramilitary unit told the civilians to walk in a line and to check with their feet where the mines were.

The indictment also says that Vlajkovic and Josipovic participated in this.

When one man fell down, a mine exploded and at the same time a number of soldiers started shooting at the Croats, and 19 of them were killed.

Josipovic’s lawyer said he neither received nor gave any order for anyone to do this.

“He was only a soldier and witnesses confirmed that he even wasn’t in that line of people who was walking towards field with civilians,” said lawyer Branko Dimic.

The lawyer for a third defendant, Darko Peric, a territorial defence forces commander accused of ordering the inhumane treatment of civilians from Lovas, also delivered closing arguments on Wednesday.

Peric is accused of accepting an order to use people as human shields on minefield, and passing on the order to Vlajkovic and Josipovic.

Peric’s attorney Jasmina Zivic denied that he accepted the order, however.

“Peric didn’t contributed to that event or treat anyone in an inhumane way,” Zivic told the court.

“Dimitrijevic [Miodrag] did call him for a meeting, and they met in the morning on October 18, but Peric didn’t contributed to that event or treat someone in a inhuman way. His only task was to deliver a message from Dimitrijevic to Vlajkovic. Most of the accused said they have never met Peric, and they don’t know him” explained lawyer Zivic.

Lawyers for two members of the ‘Dusan the Great’ paramilitary unit, Jovan Dimitrijevic and Sasa Stojanovic, accused of the inhumane treatment of the people who were used as human shields, also told the court on Wednesday that their clients should be acquitted.

The indictment claims that after the explosion in the field, Stojanovic continue to force civilians to look for the rest of the mines, and one of them was then was wounded.

Dimitrijevic and Stojanovic’s lawyers claimed however that there was no evidence for this.

A total of ten defendants are on trial over the Lovas killings.

All ten were convicted in 2012, but Serbia’s appeals court annulled the verdict and the case was sent for retrial in 2014.

Lawyers for three of the others said in closing arguments on Wednesday that their clients didn’t have command responsibility for killing 40 unarmed civilians in Lovas.

The next hearing, with closing arguments on behalf of two more defendants, Zoran Kosijer and Petronije Stevanovic, is scheduled for July 17.

Four other men who were initially convicted in the case - Ljuban Devetak, Dragan Bacic, Aleksandar Nikolaidis and Milan Radojcic - have since died.

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