News 09 Sep 14

Seselj Says Yugoslav Army Ran the War in Croatia

Nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj told the trial of former Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic that the Yugoslav People’s Army was in charge of all Serb fighters during the conflict in Croatia.

Marija Ristic
BIRN
Belgrade
Seselj at the trial of Goran Hadzic.

Seselj, the head of the Serbian Radical Party, who is himself on trial for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, testified at the Hague Tribunal on Tuesday as a defence witness for Hadzic, backing the former Croatian Serb leader’s case that he was not responsible for military actions during the 1991-95 conflict in Croatia.

The Serbian Radical Party chief said that he started organising paramilitaries from Serbia to fight in Croatia in the early 1990s, because Serbs were regularly “arrested, tortured and killed by Croats and the JNA [Yugoslav People’s Army] couldn’t do anything to protect them”.

“Serbs were helpless… We were illegally sending fighters dressed as civilians to cross the border, and then we would train them in an abandoned farm on the River Danube,” Seselj said.

“As it turned out, they were great fighters, and when the real war took place, we made an agreement with the JNA that all the paramilitaries would be under the command of the army from then on,” he explained.

“I was their commander until September 1, 1991. After that the paramilitaries didn’t exist anymore and started acting on the JNA’s orders,” he said.

Seselj said that majority of them didn’t wear army uniforms and helmets, but traditional Chetnik hats from the World War II.

“Even though they were different from the army, we agreed to defend our people and that we would forget our differences until we won the war,” he said.

Seselj also denied that his fighters committed any war crimes.

“There is no single document saying that some of my officers committed any criminal act. Even the Hague prosecution didn’t manage to identify any of the [paramilitary] volunteers committing any crime,” he said.

According to the indictment, Hadzic and Seselj were part of joint criminal enterprise seeking the “permanent removal of the Croat and other non-Serb population from large parts of the Republic of Croatia” during the war.

In order to achieve this, they worked with various other Serb forces, including the Yugoslav People’s Army, the indictment alleges.

During his defence, Hadzic has denied having any military authority over the Yugoslav People’s Army.

Seselj mainly confirmed Hadzic’s claims, adding that they had no power over the JNA’s decisions. Seselj also blamed the JNA for ordering and executing 200 people, mostly Croats, at Ovcara farm after the fall of the Croatian city of Vukovar in 1991.

“The exexution at Ovcara was organised by Yugoslav Army General Aleksandar Vasiljevic. He brought three former JNA soldiers from Belgrade - Bogdan Grujic, Slavko Tomic and Bogoljub Kajanovic - to organise all this, and also engaged some of the locals,” Seselj said.

Vasiljevic, who is retired and lives in Belgrade, has also testified at Hadzic’s trial, claiming Hadzic was the one to blame for the Ovcara massacre.

Seselj said that that JNA came to the hospital in Vukovar, agreed with hospital authorities who would be the 200 people to be executed and transferred them to the farm, where they were later killed.

“Mass graveyards were dug on army orders and with army equipment,” he said.

“I also have information that this massacre was agreed between the JNA and the Croatian authorities,” Seselj alleged.

Seselj also denied that his idea of creating a Greater Serbia envisaged the killing and expulsion of non-Serbs from the Serb-controlled areas.

“This didn’t include ethnic cleansing,” he insisted.

Seselj has been on trial for war crimes since 2003, when he voluntarily surrendered to the UN-backed court in The Hague. His verdict was scheduled for October last year, but it was postponed after one of the judges in the trial was removed for alleged bias. It is still not clear when the verdict will be delivered.

“I am expecting to be free soon and paid 12 million euros for all the damage. I was accused of war crimes that I had nothing to do with,” Seselj said.

He continues his testimony in Hadzic’s defence on Wednesday.

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Goran Hadzic at the Hague

Background

Gravest Crimes in Croatia

The Hague Prosecution charges Goran Hadzic, former President of the Republic of Serbian Krajina, with crimes against humanity and violation of the laws and customs of war in Croatia in 1991 and 1992.

Timeline: Goran Hadzic

Timeline of events leading up to the arrest of Goran Hadzic.

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