News 12 May 16

Croatian Police Official Mercep Jailed for War Crimes

Tomislav Mercep, a former Croatian interior ministry assistant and unofficial commander of a reservist police battalion, was sentenced to five-and-half years for war crimes against civilians in 1991.

Sven Milekic
Tomislav Mercep in court. Photo: Beta.

After a four-year trial, Zagreb county court convicted Mercep on Thursday of not preventing a reservist police unit known as the ‘Mercepovci’ from detaining, torturing and killing several dozen mainly Serb civilians at the Zagreb Trade Fair, Kutina in central Croatia and Pakracka Poljana in western Slavonia in late 1991.

A total of 46 civilians were killed by the Mercepovci, three went missing and have not been found, and six were tortured but survived.

The victims included a Serb family, 12-year-old Aleksandra Zec and her two parents, who were killed by the unit in Zagreb in December 1991.

Presiding judge Zdravko Majerovic said Mercep, a wartime assistant to Croatian interior minister Ivan Vekic, did not stop the unit from committing the crimes, “giving them silent approval for the misdeeds”, even when he was not physically present at the crime scenes.

Majerovic also described in detail the forcible abductions and torture of the civilians in details, explaining how their possessions, money and even cars were stolen before they were killed.

Mercep had denied any responsibility for the crimes and insisted he did not command the unit.

“I have nothing to defend myself against,” he said last month.

In his final statement to the court last week, his lawyer Marko Ujevic insisted Mercep was innocent and that the court “didn’t establish a chain of command between Mercep and the commanders in the region of Pakracka Poljana”, where the some of the civilians were detained.

But the state attorney’s representative, Silvio Susec, told the court that although there was no evidence that Mercep was the formal commander of the unit, that it had been proven that he was “the de facto commander and unquestioned authority”.

The unit’s crimes have been known to the public for almost two decades.

Anti-establishment weekly newspaper Feral Tribune first reported on the crimes in Pakracka Poljana in 1997, when one of the members of the unit and alleged executors, Miro Bajramovic, spoke about the torture and killings he took part in.

The crimes committed at the Zagreb Fair Trade, as well as in Pakracka Poljana, were described in Pavilion 22, a documentary made by director Nenad Puhovski in 2002.

Although members of Mercep’s unit were arrested soon after the killings, they were released later due to procedural issues, although they admitted the crimes.

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