News 11 May 17

Serb Fighters ‘Didn’t Order Croats’ Killings in Lovas’

In closing arguments at Belgrade Special Court, lawyers for three former Serb fighters said they didn’t have command responsibility for killing 40 unarmed civilians in the Croatian village of Lovas in 1991.

Vanja Djuric
BIRN
Belgrade
Belgrade Special Court. Photo: BIRN.

The defence lawyers for Milan Devcic, Zeljko Krnjajic and Miodrag Dimitrijevic told Belgrade Special Court on Wednesday that the defendants should be acquitted of killing the Croat civilians in Lovas in October 1991 due to lack of evidence.

According to the indictment, Devcic was the police commander in Lovas, but his lawyer Brankica Majkic said he never admitted that and that most of the witnesses didn’t confirm it.

Devcic is charged with detaining civilians from Lovas and keep them in two small offices in the village’s agricultural centre.

“There is no evidence that he could decide about detaining people, because he didn’t have the power to decide about something like that. The detained people were mostly fighters from Croatia, we had confirmation of that from the Croatian Interior Ministry and also conditions in those offices were not unhygienic and inhumane,” insisted Majkic.

The lawyer also said that Devcic couldn’t be found guilty of discriminatory behaviour because he didn’t order the detainees to put a piece of white material on their houses and around their arms as a sign that they were Croats.

She further argued that her client couldn’t be found guilty of torturing the civilians because witnesses didn’t confirm that it happened.

Devcic and nine other former members of Serb territorial defence forces, the Yugoslav People’s Army and the ‘Dusan the Great’ paramilitary unit are accused for committing war crimes against civilians and for killing 40 of them on October 10, 1991 in Croatian village Lovas.

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

Four of them who were initially convicted - Ljuban Devetak, Dragan Bacic, Aleksandar Nikolaidis and Milan Radojcic - have since died.

Zeljko Krnjajic’s lawyer Radoje Aleksic also claimed his client didn’t have command responsibility even if the indictment said he was a commander at the police station in Tovarnik, a small town near Lovas.

“He was only an ordinary police officer and he only replaced his commander on October 6 and 8 and never again,” explained Aleksic.

He denied that Krnjajic ordered his men to open fire, use explosives, or to burn houses in Lovas.

He also denied that Krnjajic intimidated Croat villager Tomislav Selebaj, pushing him with a gun and cursing his mother.

“Even if he did call him an Ustasa [Croatian WWII-era fascist sympathiser], that will not be an offence, because Selebaj said he feels like an Ustasa, he sang an Ustasa song,” said Aleksic.

The lawyer for Dimitrijevic, who was a Yugoslav People’s Army officer and was in Lovas in October 1991, should not be convicted just because he was there at that time.

“The fact that he was officer in the Yugoslav Army is irrelevant and can’t be evidence that he was a commander in Lovas. Evidence shows that Ljuban Devetak [a former defendant in the case who has since died] was the one who gave the orders,” said lawyer Boris Zorko.

Closing arguments on behalf of the other defendants continue on Thursday.

The Belgrade deputy prosecutor asked in March 2017 for the ten defendants to be jailed for a total of 83 years.

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