News 17 Nov 17

Serb General Blames ‘Terrorists’ for Massacring Bosniaks

The defence team for Bosnian Serb general Novak Djukic, who was convicted of the 1995 Tuzla massacre, have blamed the attack on unknown “terrorists” - a claim that was sharply criticised by human rights campaigners.

Filip Rudic
Novak Djukic on trial in Sarajevo.

The defence team for Bosnian Serb Army general Novak Djukic, who was convicted of ordering the shelling of the town of Tuzla during the Bosnian war in 1995, claimed on Thursday that unknown terrorists were actually responsible for the massacre that killed 71 people.

"[Djukic] was charged and convicted because he is a Serb," said a member of his defence team, retired Bosnian Serb Army general Petar Skrbic, at a press conference in Belgrade.

The defence presented the findings of its own reconstruction of the incident conducted at the Serbian Army’s Nikinci military base, which allegedly showed that the explosions at Tuzla town square were a consequence of five detonations of bombs planted by unknown “terrorists”.

Former general Ilija Brankovic, who presented himself as the head of a "team of experts", showed diagrams, photographs and a model grenade which, according to the Bosnian court’s verdict, was fired on the central square in Tuzla by Bosnian Serb forces.

Djukic, the former commander of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Ozren Tactical Group, was convicted in Sarajevo in 2014 of ordering an artillery squad to shell the town of Tuzla on May 25, 1995.

He was sentenced to 20 years in jail by the Bosnian state court, but did not turn up to serve his sentence, claiming he was undergoing medical treatment in Serbia.

Bosnia issued an international arrest warrant for him in October 2014, but Djukic cannot be extradited to Bosnia because it has no extradition treaty with Serbia.

Serbia then offered to deal with the case. Serbia signed an agreement with Bosnia in 2010, which allows Sarajevo and Belgrade to ask each other to take over the enforcement of sentences.

However Djukic has not appeared for a series of hearings in Belgrade, citing health reasons.

The Serbian court has also claimed that the Bosnian court has not sent the necessary case documents which were requested by Djukic’s defence.

The Bosnian court argues however that the court in Belgrade does not need to confirm the Bosnian verdict, but just to take over the enforcement of Djukic’s sentence.

Nemanja Stjepanovic from the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Centre said the ‘reconstruction’ at the Serbian Army base in Nikinci was just another example of Serbia’s support for challenges to court-established facts.

"This support is reflected in enabling the defence of general Djukic to use military resources for conducting these so-called experiments, whose intention is not to overturn the verdict, but only to convince the public that the verdict isn’t true," Stjepanovic told BIRN.

He said that the test in Nikinci itself was "one-sided" and "unverifiable".

The delay to Djukic’s case in Belgrade due to his claims of illness is one of several such delays that have led the Humanitarian Law Centre to allege that Serbian Army hospitals are deliberately obstructing war crimes trials.

Serbia’s behaviour in the Djukic case has been criticised by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and its chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz.

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