Seven members of a paramilitary unit called ‘Sima’s Chetniks’ said that their trial for war crimes near the Bosnian town of Zvornik in 1992 was staged.
“This indictment is an absolute outrage. All the prosecution witnesses claimed that I defended them and that they wouldn’t have survived if I was not there,” said defendant Damir Bogdanovic during his closing arguments in the trial at Belgrade’s special court on Wednesday.
Bogdanovic is one of seven members of a Serb paramilitary group known as Sima’s Chetniks, who are charged with the killing of 28 Roma civilians from the villages of Skocic, Malesic and Setic, near Zvornik in north-eastern Bosnia in 1992.
Bogdanovic said that his only ‘crime’ was that he was the son of Sima Bogdanovic, the leader of the unit, who died in custody during the trial.
The prosecution also accuses them of the rape, torture and inhumane treatment of three Roma women, protected witnesses Alpha, Beta, Gamma, who were held at a house in Malesic between July and December 1992, where they were abused and repeatedly raped by various members of the paramilitary group.
The defendants however insist that the women’s testimonies should be thrown out because they had given contradictory statements.
“First Alpha said that Sima raped her, then she changed her statement, saying that I did,” said Zoran Stojanovic, one of the defendants.
His comrade from the unit, Tomislav Gavric, made a similar claim.
“This is all a lie. My only guilt is that I was fighting for Serbia in this shameful war. And if this is my guilt, then also you should charge at least one quarter of Serbia now,” Gavric said.
Three other defendants, Djordje Sevic, Zoran Alic, Zoran Djurdjevic, pleaded not guilty, accusing the prosecution and police of a set-up.
Dragana Djekic, the only women from the Sima’s Chetniks unit, refused to comment on the indictment.
“My only goal in going to war was to learn how to become a nurse. The only thing I want from this court is to determine with this verdict whether I am a traitor or a war criminal,” Djekic said.
This is the fifth case to be launched by Serbia’s special prosecutor over attacks in Zvornik, where some of the most brutal crimes of the 1992-95 Bosnian war were committed.
After Zvornik, a town on the River Drina close to the border with Serbia, was seized in May 1992, Arkan’s Tigers, another Serb paramilitary unit, expelled most of the non-Serb population. More than 1,000 people were killed during the fighting.
Arkan’s Tigers are alleged to have cooperated closely with the paramilitaries of Vojislav Seselj, the leader of the Serbian Radical Party who is facing trial for war crimes in The Hague. The two paramilitary groups went on to attack numerous towns in Bosnia and Croatia with the help of the Yugoslav Army.
It remains unclear under whose command Sima’s Chetniks acted, since some of the witnesses claimed that they received orders from the headquarters of the Serbian Radical Party.
Seselj, however, has denied that he had any control over units in Zvornik, accusing Arkan (Zeljko Raznatovic), who died in a gangland shooting in 2000, of having command responsibility.
The verdict is due on February 22.