News 31 Oct 17

Serb Paramilitaries Convicted of Burning Croatian Village

Zagreb county court jailed three former Serb fighters in their absence for burning down a Croatian village in 1991, handing down prison sentences ranging from five-and-a-half to seven-and-a-half years.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Zagreb county court. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Suradnik13.

Zagreb county court on Tuesday found Nikola Ladjevic, Predrag Radisic and Dean Tisma - all former members of the 2nd Company’s 2nd Battalion of the armed forces of the Republic of Serbian Krajina, an unrecognised wartime Serb statelet - guilty of a war crime.

The three men were convicted of burning and destroying houses in the village of Nova Derencina, which was almost completely populated by Croats, in October and November 1991.

They were tried in absentia, as they are presumed to be living outside Croatia.

The court gave a seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence to Ladjevic, while Radisic and Tisma were given a five-and-a-half years each – a little above the minimum war crime prison sentence of five years.

Judge Tomislav Jurisa said that “the burning of the houses symbolised that the [Croat] villagers should never return”.

The court established that Ladjevic knew his subordinates were setting the village on fire and did nothing to stop them or sanction the perpetrators afterwards.

“During the trial, it was established that at that moment [when the village was first burned on October 6, 1991] there were no Croatian forces or military targets in the village and that all the houses were civilian objects,” judge Jurisa said.

According to the court, it was established that Ladjevic was “the official and real commander of the 2nd Company’s 2nd Battalion” and thus had “responsibility for preventing and sanctioning offences” committed by his subordinates, who included Radisic and Tisma.

The court established Radisic’s guilt from photographs in which he is shown with a broom on fire, next to the burning houses.

Tisma’s guilt was partly established by a personal letter he sent to his brother, describing the crimes, which the court found to be authentic.

The court established Ladjevic’s command responsibility through the statements of witness Nikola Simic, also a former paramilitary, who said that the 2nd Battalion had three platoons, made up of Territorial Defence members and conscripted civilians.

The court also established that Ladjevic had real command power from testimonies that he ordered two tanks to be deployed in the village.

The court further established that alongside Radisic and Tisma there was an alleged third perpetrator, Predrag Japranin.

Jurisa explained that in sentencing Radisic and Tisma, the court took into account that they were 21 at the time and were “being manipulated”.

He noted that their “naivety and even stupidity” was demonstrated in Tisma’s letter, in which he wrote about “21 Russian MiGs [military jets] with Russian pilots” coming to the Serbs’ aid – something that never happened, according to all reliable historical sources.

Jurisa said the men’s youth was a “greater responsibility for the officer staff” – which served as an aggravating circumstance in the sentencing of their superior, Ladjevic.

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