Friday, 21 December 2018

NGOs Present Map of War Victims in Former Yugoslavia

ZAGREB, December 21, 2018 - The Initiative for RECOM and the non-governmental organisation Documenta - the Centre for Dealing with the Past on Friday presented an interactive map of war victims in former Yugoslavia, from Croatia's 1991-1995 Homeland War to the 2001 armed conflict in Macedonia.

The acronym RECOM stands for the Regional Commission Tasked with Establishing the Facts about All Victims of War Crimes and Other Serious Human Rights Violations Committed on the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia from 1 January 1991 to 31 December 2001.

Long-lasting research and documenting of human losses is a result of efforts and cooperation between regional documentation centres - Documenta from Zagreb, the Humanitarian Law Centre from Belgrade, the Humanitarian Law Centre from Pristina, and the Sarajevo-based association Transitional Justice, Responsibility and Memory.

The map contains the victims' names and characteristics because we believe that it is important for people to remember people, Documenta head Vesna Teršelić said, adding that the initiative was designed to contribute to reducing and stopping the manipulation of victims.

The human rights associations working on the research as well as the organisations involved in the RECOM coalition established that around 130,000 people had been killed or had gone missing in all the former Yugoslav wars but not all names have been entered in the map because the research is ongoing.

In Croatia, 17,007 war victims have been recorded, and the map contains the names of slightly more than 4,000 victims because only victims verified by several sources are entered in the register.

Nataša Kandić, the founder of Belgrade's Humanitarian Law Centre, said that they expected Croatia to be among the countries that would compile the first regional list of war victims in former Yugoslavia and to join, as a member of the European Union, in the European Commission's open support to the RECOM initiative.

Nives Jozić, human loss research coordinator at Documenta, said that while researching human losses in Croatia since 2009 they had interviewed more than 2,900 members of victims' families, acquaintances and witnesses and gathered more than 27,000 documents, registering 17,007 victims.

Documenta's map also contains data collected by the Humanitarian Law Centre on the human loss of Serbian and Montenegrin nationals, namely the names of 2,200 members of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and the army and police forces of Serbia killed in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Information for Kosovo shows that from early 1998 to late 2000, 13,549 people went missing or were killed there.

The project was presented in the context of a campaign to establish a regional commission to determine facts about the victims, perpetrators and war events.

The need for such a commission is greater than ever because a year after the completion of the work of the Hague war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which documented more than 18,000 victims during its work, we can see how important it is, aside from administering justice, to make an additional step towards establishing facts about war victims in former Yugoslavia and building trust, Teršelić said, warning that regional cooperation in that regard is growing weaker and weaker.

More news on the activities of NGOs can be found in our Politics section.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Proposal for Monument to Serb Victims in Vukovar Causes Debate

ZAGREB, December 18, 2018 - During a session of the Vukovar Town Council on Tuesday, a representative of the Democratic Serb Party (DSS), Borislav Nikolić, asked Mayor Ivan Penava about a possibility to raise a monument to Serb victims in Vukovar, and Penava replied that he would have nothing against such an idea, provided that the DSS admitted that Croatia's Homeland War was a consequence of aggression which the protagonists of the Great Serbia policy launched against Croatia.

During the session, Nikolić wondered about the reaction to a possible initiative of the Serb NGO called "Protiv Zaborava" (Against Oblivion) that a monument be erected in Vukovar to local Serb civilian victims.

Penava said that he would have nothing against that if the DSS party was ready to acknowledge that the war of independence was a consequence of the Great Serbia aggression.

After the council's heated debate on that issue involving DSS leader Srđan Milaković, who said that he believed that the 1995 Operation Storm was ethnic cleansing, Mayor Penava told a news conference that Milaković was actually manipulating the public and showing disrespect for history and the Croatian Constitution as well as for judgements of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) that "expose the Great Serbian regime led by Slobodan Milošević."

Penava recalled that the relevant verdicts of that UN tribunal also rejected the thesis about Operation Storm as a criminal enterprise.

"Milaković is implementing the Great Serbia programme also known in public as SANU's memorandum 2," Penava said, alluding to the continuation of a policy based on ideas promoted in a document known as the SANU memorandum.

The first memorandum of Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences (SANU), drawn up by a group of Serbian academicians in the 1980s, is perceived in the public as a document that lay the ground for inciting Serb nationalism and the tenets of Milošević's Great Serbia policy.

Penava went on to say that Milaković falsified history by claiming that "the alleged killings of Serb civilians" paved the way for the wars in the 1990s. The Vukovar mayor said that he had asked Milaković to give him the names of such victims.

The mayor said Serb civilian victims had been a result of the aggression to which Vukovar had been exposed and shelling by the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA). "Milaković seems to forget the well-known plans of the JNA in the mid-1980s, the delivery of arms to Serb extremists, road blockades, the massacre in Borovo Selo on 2 May 1991," said Penava.

"We in Vukovar will, of course, call on all citizens who love this country to be with us, who defend the right of each Serb who has decided with their families to live and work here and help develop this city and society."

"We won't let the defeated forces from the past whom Milaković is obviously promoting to strike against the foundations of this country," Penava said.

He also called on the DSS to show publicly its platform and on its officials to say publicly what they think about the developments in Vukovar and about Serb victims who died in the shelling by the JNA and Serb rebels.

Milaković, who is Vukovar's deputy mayor from the Serb electorate, said at a news conference that a half of the overall Serb population in Croatia used to live in the area where Operation Storm was conducted in August 1995. "Operation Storm could be described in various ways, including ethnic cleansing," he said, adding that 200,000 Serbs who left that area did not do so voluntarily.

Operation Storm was launched at 5am on August 4, 1995 and within the next 84 hours 10,400 square kilometres or 18.4 per cent of Croatia's territory, which used to be under control of Serb rebels since 1991, was liberated.

Operation Storm marked the end of the war in Croatia, created conditions for the peaceful reintegration of the eastern Danube River region, spared the north-western Bosnian town of Bihać the fate of Srebrenica, and enabled the return of refugees and displaced persons.

The legitimacy of Operation Storm has been proved before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. On November 16, 2012, the Appeals Chamber reversed the Trial Chamber's convictions of General Ante Gotovina, commander of the Split Military District, and General Mladen Markač, special police commander, and ordered their immediate release. The generals were in the ICTY's custody on charges of involvement in a joint criminal enterprise and excessive shelling of Knin, Gračac, Obrovac and Benkovac.

More news on Vukovar can be found in our Politics section.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Pavle Strugar, War Criminal Who Shelled Dubrovnik, Dies in Belgrade

Pavle Strugar, the war criminal who shelled Dubrovnik, causing not only wanton destruction and horrific damage to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, but also a terrible loss of life, has passed away in Serbia.

Strugar was born on the 13th of July, 1933 in Peć, in the then Kingdom of Yugoslavia, now Kosovo. The Montenegrin general served in the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA), undertaking various different roles, and eventually becoming the commander of the Second Operational Group of the JNA, which operated in southern Croatia, in 1991.

Under his command, the JNA monstrously attacked Dubrovnik in 1991, in a siege which caused tremendous damage to the city, and took the lives of both veterans and civilians. The terrible siege of Dubrovnik lasted until 1992, with Strugar retiring one year later, in 1993.

As Jutarnji reports on the 13th of December, 2018, the retired General Pavle Strugar has died in Belgrade following a short but serious illness.

Strugar was tried and sentenced for his actions, as well as for the deaths of civilians at the Hague tribunal, this was coupled with the fact that in 1991, he did nothing to prevent the horrendous war crime of the shelling of Dubrovnik. The Montenegrin initially attempted an appeal to his sentence, but that was later withdrawn.

Strugar voluntarily handed himself over to the Hague Tribunal in 2001, making a name for himself as the first Serb or Montenegrin to make such a move. Because of his part in the criminal shelling of Dubrovnik, a beloved UNESCO World Heritage Site, he was sentenced to a pitiful 7.5 years in prison, and of course, he didn't even serve that, after serving a mere two-thirds of his sentence, he was released back in 2009. 

Strugar will be buried this Saturday at the Bežanijska cemetery in the Serbian capital, according to a report from Mondo.rs.

Make sure to stay up to date with our news page for much more.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Dubrovnik - A Scarred City Exhibition to be Staged at UN

ZAGREB, December 9, 2018 - A multimedia exhibition called "Dubrovnik - a Scarred City, 1991-2000" will be staged at the UN on December 17 on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Dubrovnik's inclusion of the World Heritage List and the 20th anniversary of its removal from the List of Endangered Sites.

Mayor Mato Franković said this would be the first exhibition at the UN focusing on Croatia's 1991-95 Homeland War. "We want to show the world how Dubrovnik suffered in the Homeland War, but also how it was rebuilt after the war."

Julijana Antić Brautović, one of the authors of the exhibition together with Mato Brautović and Goran Cvjetinović, said two historic precedents were related to Dubrovnik. "For the first time in history, UNESCO sent envoys to a war-affected area and they arrived in Dubrovnik in November 1991, recording the damage. Thanks to them, Dubrovnik was included on the List of Endangered Sites six days after extensive destruction on 6 December 1991. Together with Croatian experts, they developed a reconstruction methodology and priorities and oversaw everything," said Antić Brautović.

The other precedent was that Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) General Pavle Strugar and Vice Admiral Miodrag Jokić were the first people to be convicted by an international tribunal of crimes against the cultural heritage as crimes against humanity, she said.

Dubrovnik lived under siege for 240 days, mostly without electricity or fresh water. The JNA swept through surrounding villages looting houses and razing them to the ground. December 6, 1991 will be remembered as one of the worst days in Dubrovnik's history, when Serbian and Montenegrin soldiers targeted the medieval walled town with all types of weapons weapon, killing 19 defenders and civilians and wounding another 60 people. Thousands of shells fell on the historical centre, nine palaces were burnt to the ground and 461 buildings were severely damaged that day.

During the war in the area, 116 civilians and 430 Croatian soldiers were killed and several hundred were injured.

The exhibition is organised by the City of Dubrovnik and Croatia's Permanent Mission to the UN under the auspices of President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and the government. After New York, the display will be staged in Dubrovnik's twin cities.

For more on the Dubrovnik news, follow Total Dubrovnik.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

War Crimes Suspects Arrested in Vukovar

ZAGREB, December 6, 2018 - Minister of the Interior Davor Božinović said in Brussels on Thursday that several persons had been arrested as war crimes suspects in the Vukovar area, but added that he was not familiar with the details.

"As minister, I don't know nor can I know the details but what I can confirm is that several people were arrested today for war crimes and a criminal investigation is underway. That is all I can say for the moment," Božinović said in Brussels where he was attending a Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting.

A spokeswoman in the ministry, Marina Mandić, confirmed to HINA that a criminal investigation was underway related to war crimes committed in 1991 in the Vukovar area. She said that several people were under investigation and that more details would be made public upon the completion of the investigation.

Media outlets have reported that an investigation has been launched against five ethnic Serbs from Vukovar who were taken in for questioning early on Thursday morning on suspicion of committing war crimes in Vukovar in 1991.

Minister Božinović underscored that he wished to recall that the chief police director had in February, "prior to some processes and protests in Croatia, set up a task force that began to intensively investigate war crimes in the Vukovar area. So far, the task force has filed criminal charges in three cases of war crimes as well as for four crimes committed on the Ovčara farm" (the site of a 1991 atrocity near Vukovar).

"The task force is working very seriously and thoroughly. As you know, investigating war crimes committed 27 years ago isn't easy. It is very complex and it would have been much better if investigations had been launched sooner. This government and the interior ministry began working on that as soon as they were given the mandate. The results are visible and we will continue on that path," said Božinović.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenković dismissed on Thursday speculation that the arrest of several people from Vukovar, suspected of war crimes committed in 1991, had been made due to pressure by Vukovar Mayor Ivan Penava, noting that the police and prosecutorial authorities were doing their job in line with the law and autonomously.

"No. The police are doing their job, as is the special task force for war crimes, which has been dealing with war crimes in Vukovar and at Ovčara in such a way that has resulted in these steps and procedures. It has been working since February. This has nothing to do with political pressure. The police, the Office of the Chief State Prosecutor (DORH) are doing their job lawfully and independently of any institution," Plenković said after a cabinet meeting in Karlovac.

The Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS) and the Joint Council of Serb-majority Municipalities (ZVO) expressed concern on Thursday after police arrested five ethnic Serbs in Vukovar early in the morning and took them in for questioning as part of a war crimes investigation.

"Without wishing to question police work or obstruct an investigation into war crimes, our concern is based on the fact that the latest police action comes after a political campaign launched at national and local level to exert pressure on the police and investigators," the SDSS and ZVO said in a joint statement.

They said that this campaign and the latest police action caused fear in Vukovar's Serb community and doubts of impartiality of the necessary investigation into war crimes. They said that the individuals brought in for questioning had regularly responded to police summons for questioning and had never shown a readiness to obstruct or avoid cooperation with the police.

"We fear that the purpose of their detention is to please the campaign actors who created such an atmosphere in society and who spread intolerance towards the Serb community," the statement said. It warned that war crimes committed against Serbs in Vukovar and elsewhere during the 1991-1995 war remained unprosecuted, while the campaign to prosecute Serbs continued.

For more news about war crimes in Croatia, click here.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Homeland War: Barbaric Yugoslav Attack on Dubrovnik Remembered

Back in the 90s, Dubrovnik, best known today for being the Pearl of the Adriatic, was an entirely different place. Ravaged by war and under attack from the JNA (Yugoslav People's Army) and their Serbian and Montenegrin helpers, who made sure to not only burn houses, but to steal from them too, Croatia's southernmost city suffered one of its most devastating attacks on this very day, back on the 6th of December, 1991.

As Morski writes on the 6th of December, 2018, today will remain scarred into history's bloody memory as the day when the City of Dubrovnik was defended. The attack, which began on Friday, December the 6th, 1991, at 5:50 am, saw the JNA put its weight behind its senseless and barbaric attack on the Croatian city of the arts. The aggressors launched a horrendous assault on the beloved UNESCO World Heritage site, showering the city with blows from the sea and the land, assisted by heavy weaponry including cannons, mortars, and tanks.

The JNA's end goal was to weaken and break Dubrovnik's last line of defense from the former Hotel Belvedere, which now lies in ruin as a star reminder of this shameful assault, to Sustjepan, located along Rijeka Dubrovačka. On just that day, more than 600 Yugoslav Army grenades rained down on the city's historic core, killing and injuring along their way. The JNA, Serbia and Montenegro were quickly met with international condemnation following this act of terrorism, with Serbia and Montenegro ostracised by the European Community, and by the world.

As the fires caused by the attack didn't take long spread across the city, a group of veterans located at Srđ's Fort Imperijal, a Napoleonic building at the very top of the mountain, managed to fend off the brutal and relentless Yugoslav attacks and prevent the defeat of Dubrovnik's last defense, today marks the solemn anniversary, and we honour and celebrate Dubrovnik's War Veterans Day, as Dubrovniknet reports.

During this primitive and unjustifiable attack, nineteen people lost their lives, and sixty were injured, some very seriously. Nine of Dubrovnik's buildings burned, and the damage to the UNESCO World Heritage site's historic core was vast, as it was throughout the rest of the city. At 16:00, the relentless attack ended, with the JNA accepting defeat and finally withdrawing. The courage and the enormous sacrifice of Dubrovnik's war veterans is the reason the city is as it is today.

Pavle Strugar, a former JNA General, was sentenced and rightly put behind bars at the Hague International Tribunal for failing to take command of responsibility during the horrific JNA attack on Dubrovnik on this day back in 1991. Miodrag Jokić also pleaded guilty to six counts of the charges against the JNA for the attack on Dubrovnik, he was also sentenced and jailed.

Make sure to follow Total Dubrovnik for more on the Pearl of the Adriatic.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Wreaths Laid, Candles Lit at Vukovar Memorial Cemetery

ZAGREB, November 19, 2018 - State and other official delegations on Sunday laid wreaths and lit candles at the Homeland War Memorial Cemetery in Vukovar, on the occasion of Vukovar Remembrance Day and the 27th anniversary of the town's fall into the hands of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and Serb paramilitaries on 18 November 1991, after a three-month siege.

Tribute to the victims was paid at the town's memorial cemetery by President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković and Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, who walked to the cemetery in a procession from the hospital, together with tens of thousands of other people who arrived in the town from all parts of the country.

Wreaths were also laid and candles lit by a delegation of defenders and war victims' associations, led by the last commander of the town's defence forces, Branko Borković, and a delegation of the town authorities, led by Mayor Ivan Penava.

A prayer for the Vukovar victims was led by Đakovo-Osijek Archbishop Đuro Hranić and a mass was said by the Bishop of Eisenstadt (Austria), Egidije Ivan Živković.

Several hundred lanterns were floated down the River Danube at Vukovar on Sunday evening as part of events commemorating Croatian soldiers and civilians killed or gone missing during the defence of this eastern town 27 years ago, at the start of Croatia's 1991-1995 war of independence.

This year the victims of Vukovar and other war victims were also commemorated by the tolling of church bells across the country at 6.11 pm. This initiative was launched by the Franciscan monastery in Vukovar and was accepted by Croatian bishops.

The Remembrance Day ceremonies will continue on Monday with commemorations for Croatian soldiers and civilians killed or gone missing in the town's Borovo Naselje neighbourhood.

The battle of Vukovar started on 25 August 1991, when members of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and Serb paramilitaries launched an all-out tank and infantry attack on the town. The town was defended by around 1,800 members of the National Guard Corps, police and volunteers of the self-organised Croatian Defence Force (HOS), organised into the 204th Croatian Army Brigade.

The town's defence lines were broken after a three-month siege on 18 November 1991.

According to data from war victims' associations, 1,664 Croatian soldiers and civilians were killed in the aggression on Vukovar and 308 people gone missing in Vukovar remain unaccounted for.

For more on Vukovar, click here.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Tens of Thousands Gather for Vukovar Remembrance Day

ZAGREB, November 18, 2018 - Commemorative events marking Vukovar 1991 Remembrance Day and the 27th anniversary of the destruction of that eastern Croatian city in the country's 1991-95 war of independence started with a commemoration outside the town hospital where 3,500 wounded people had been treated during the siege by the JNA and Serb paramilitary troops in 1991.

Attending the commemoration were numerous people who arrived from all over Croatia and abroad, top state officials, including President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and other government officials, members of Parliament, and representatives of the diplomatic corps, the Catholic Church and other religious communities, numerous war veterans' and victims' associations and political parties.

After the commemoration outside the city hospital, the participants embarked on a 5.5 km walk to the Homeland War Memorial Cemetery where state and other delegations laid wreaths and light candles and a religious service was held.

Vukovar Remembrance Day is observed in memory of 18 November 1991 when the town's defence lines were broken after a three-month siege by the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and Serb paramilitaries. The besieged town was defended by around 1,800 members of the National Guard Corps, police and volunteers of the self-organised Croatian Defence Force (HOS), organised into the 204th Croatian Army Brigade.

Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković said on Sunday that message from Vukovar to Croatia and the world is that war is the worst solution to conflicts and that regardless of all the tragedy, in the end this was a great victory.

"We came here today primarily to pay our respects to Vukovar, its residents and express our gratitude for everything they have done for Croatia. We are remembering victims, those defenders and civilians who died, were killed or went missing. This was a great tragedy," Jandroković said.

He also said that the message from Vukovar to the Croatian people and the whole world is that the war is the worst way to resolve conflicts and that solution must be sought in a peaceful fashion, through negotiations, taking into account the dignity of every people.

"The Croatian people in Vukovar showed heroism, readiness to make sacrifices, bravery, readiness to fight for their freedom and the Homeland and regardless of all the tragedy, in the end this was one great victory. This was the deciding battle which lead to Croatia's final victory in the Homeland War," Jandroković said.

Veterans' Affairs Minister Minister Tomo Medved said that all feelings today were going out to the victims and heroes, those who were taken from the hospital to the Ovčara farm. We are still intensively searching for the missing, and we will continue to search for them, our efforts are aimed at finding every missing person, Medved told the press when asked about the fate of more than 300 missing persons.

Asked about communication with Serbia regarding that issue, Medved said Croatia was doing everything to be a responsible partner. We are doing this by insisting on a professional and responsible cooperation and this is what we will continue to do, Medved said. He said his ministry has finished a draft bill on Vukovar as a place of special reverence and that it was now fine-tuning it in cooperation with other ministries.

Interior Minister Davor Božinović said that a task force entrusted with investigating war crimes had raised the number of criminal charges by 35% compared to last year, of which three cases refer to the Ovčara war crimes, adding that this was how the task force would continue to work.

"I want to express my deep respect to all defenders and civilians whose sacrifice and exceptional bravery we remember today," Božinović said. He added that the Interior Ministry was working intensively on resolving war crimes.

The president of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Davor Bernardić, said on Sunday that today the country was remembering all victims who gave their lives for Croatia, in Vukovar, Škabrinja and the entire Homeland War.

"Vukovar had suffered mass destruction and we can only say – may this never happen again," Bernardić said. "I want all people in Vukovar to live a dignified life, to have dignified salaries, without gaps and exceptions and that finally, after 27 years, we end the search for the missing so their families can finally find peace," the SDP chief said. "This is the least that the country can do for them," Bernardić stressed.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovič said that that the eastern Croatian town enjoyed the strong support of all state institutions, notably the government, and that a special system of benefits was being negotiated with the European Commission.

"We are here for the 20th remembrance procession since the completion of the peaceful reintegration of the Croatian Danube region, to express our respect for the sacrifice of Croatian defenders and all who gave their lives for a free and democratic Croatia, for the sacrifice of Vukovar, the symbol of the Homeland War and for all those who gave what they had for Croatia's future and us who live in it today," Plenković said in Vukovar.

Plenković recalled that a number of local projects had been launched after a government session in the town two years ago, adding that more than 490 families had been provided with accommodation, new buildings had been built or existing ones had been renovated, and that funding for Vukovar had increased by 50%.

"We now have to create and consolidate conditions for private businesses to start operating in Vukovar, for job creation, and for demographic revival," the prime minister said.

Plenković believes that a special system of financial relief should be established for Vukovar, different from those applied in other parts of the country or the EU, which, he said, had to be agreed with the EC. "Talks are under way, and our position in that regard is firm because we believe that local circumstances are such that we should and can ask for such relief at EU level," he said.

Asked what had changed since the October 13 protest held in Vukovar against the inefficiency of state institutions in prosecuting war crimes, Plenković said that the current government had made significant progress in that regard, greater than any other previous government, and that work on war crimes prosecution was now much more systematic. The Office of the Chief State Prosecutor has sufficient funding for its functioning, he said, adding that there were no problems regarding the government's focus on war crimes prosecution.

Commenting on Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS) leader and MP Milorad Pupovac's visit to Vukovar on Saturday, Plenković said that Pupovac had decided to visit yesterday and that by visiting the town he had sent a message of respect and paid tribute to the victims of Vukovar. "Any commemoration should primarily be about remembering the truth, and about respect for the victims, but it should also help turn to the future, reconciliation and coexistence," he said.

"One of the key parts of first Croatian President Franjo Tuđman's legacy was peaceful reintegration and in line with his policy of understanding, we should work to lessen any possibility for new victims, his policy of ensuring peaceful reintegration with the help of the international community was brilliant," said Plenković.

The process of reconciliation is a difficult one, as evidenced by speeches by world leaders at the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. "We live on a continent where reconciliation requires a lot of investment, knowledge of history, good will and cooperation for the future," he stressed.

Asked if Tuđman's decision on amnesty had been a good one, Plenković said that it was necessary to make a clear distinction between the Amnesty Act and war crimes. "War crimes are crimes against the sick, against civilians, the wounded and prisoners of war, there is no amnesty for that and that should be fully investigated and prosecuted. There is no statute of limitations on war crimes either under our law or under international conventions," he said.

Asked who was to blame why a project for an intercultural school in Vukovar had not come to life, Plenković said that that was one of the examples that showed how demanding the process of reconciliation was. "A certain amount of time has to pass, trust must be built through the process of coexistence, and building trust starts with small steps towards creating a general climate. It is up to the state to create the general climate and in real life, those processes are time-consuming. There are too many scars here for that to happen overnight," Plenković said.

Vukovar Mayor Ivan Penava said that the protest rally, held in that town in October due to discontent with the work of state institutions in prosecuting war crimes, had awakened state institutions, adding that we welcomed and appreciated that Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS) leader Milorad Pupovac visited Vukovar on Saturday.

"The protest is now behind us...to especially, our heroes, those living and those who are no longer with us are in our thoughts. Those who are responsible for the prosecution of war crimes should have them in their thoughts every day of the year," Penava said. "That is all I can say. This is simply thinking of 1991, of the heroes of Vukovar, Croatian defenders, civilian casualties and all the innocent victims who were treated brutally by the Great Serbia aggressor after the town fell, because of the huge losses they had during the battle of Vukovar," Penava said.

Asked whether he was satisfied with the results of the protest rally, he said that it was necessary to leave it to time to show, but that believed that something had started to happen. "Let's have patience, we woke up state institutions and I think that they don't have a lot of time, however, they need to be given some time to do what they should have done until now," he added.

Penava also commented on SDSS MP Milorad Pupovac's visit to Vukovar on Saturday, when he lowered into the waters of the Danube a wreath and lit a candle at the Homeland War Memorial Cemetery, noting on that occasion that all victims were important. "I don't want to name any names and don't want to speak about any victims except those of 1991. It is the wrong time and place to speak about other victims," Penava said.

"I appreciate and welcome the fact that he came to pay tribute to the victims of the Great Serbia aggression, because they are the only ones we can speak about in Vukovar," he concluded.

For more on Vukovar, click here.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Croatia Observes Vukovar Remembrance Day

ZAGREB, November 18, 2018 - Croatia is marking the 27th anniversary of the destruction of the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar following a 87-day siege, that ended on November 18, 1991 and claimed the lives of 1,624 Croatian soldiers and civilians.

The main commemoration will start outside the town hospital where 3,500 wounded people had been treated during a siege by the JNA and Serb paramilitary troops in 1991.

Participants in the commemoration, including war veterans and families of the war victims, will march through the city and stop at the Memorial Cemetery where wreath-laying ceremonies will be held by top state officials.

The battle of Vukovar

The battle of Vukovar was the fiercest and most protracted battle seen in Europe since 1945, and Vukovar was the first major European town to be entirely destroyed since World War Two.

The Remembrance Day is observed in memory of 18 November 1991 when the town's defence lines were broken after a three-month siege by the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and Serb paramilitaries. The besieged city was defended by around 1,800 members of the National Guard Corps, police and volunteers of the self-organised Croatian Defence Force (HOS), organised into the 204th Croatian Army Brigade.

After the ravaged city fell into the hands of the JNA and Serb paramilitaries, around 22,000 local Croats and members of other ethnic groups were expelled and several thousand Croatian soldiers and civilians were taken to Serb-run prison camps.

Numerous crimes were committed against the defence forces and civilians, including a massacre of 200 soldiers and civilians from the hospital who were taken from the hospital on November 19 and killed at a former farm at Ovčara, outside the town, and buried in a mass grave.

According to data from the Vukovar Hospital, 1,624 Croatian soldiers and civilians were killed and 1,219 were wounded during the siege of the city. Around 3,600 Croatian soldiers and civilians were killed in the aggression on and subsequent occupation of the city. A total of 309 persons from the Vukovar area are still listed as missing.

In 1999, the Croatian Parliament adopted a decision proclaiming Vukovar Remembrance Day to honour all those who died defending the town – the symbol of Croatia's freedom. Vukovar Remembrance Day is also commemorated all over Croatia.

Almost every town in the country has a street named after Vukovar and on the eve of Remembrance Day candles were lit to mark Vukovar Remembrance Day.

Vukovar and other occupied areas in eastern Slavonia, Baranja and western Srijem returned to Croatia's constitutional and legal order on January 15, 1998, after he process of peaceful reintegration of the Croatian Danube River region ended.

For more on the Homeland War, click here.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Veterans Outraged by Zagreb Mayor's Meeting with Serbian Politician

ZAGREB, November 5, 2018 - The Association of Zagreb war veterans who defended Vukovar sent an open letter on Monday to Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić expressing outrage and disappointment at Bandić's reception for the head of the town council of the Serbian town of Jagodina, Dragan Marković Palma, who together with Serbian paramilitary leader and war crimes indictee Željko Raznatović a.k.a. Arkan established the Party of Serb Unity in 1993.

The war veterans association criticised Bandić for receiving the Serbian politician whom they described as "a proven Chetnik" and "Arkan's errand boy". They also pointed out the fact that the reception in Zagreb on 2 November coincided with the observation of the 27th anniversary of the fall of the village of Lužac near Vukovar into the hands of Serb paramilitary forces led by Arkan in 1991.

On Sunday, the Split-Dalmatia County association of war veterans who were detained in Serb-run concentration camps described Bandić's decision to receive the Serb politician as abominable. That association said that the reception in Zagreb was an act of rubbing salt into the wounds of war victims.

Veterans' Affairs Minister Tomo Meved said on Monday that officials have to take account with whom they meet. “If indeed this is the same person, from what we can see on social media, that is absolutely unacceptable and I am personally very critical toward relations of that kind. We are aware that we have to normalise relations with Serbia. I am an advocate of cooperation, particularly in finding missing persons. We, however, have to take account with whom we meet and who those people are. If they participated in the armed aggression against Croatia, then it should be dealt with by some other authorities," Medved said.

Asked what message that meeting was sending, Medved said that he couldn't say as he wasn't familiar with the circumstances that led to the meeting or with the contents of the talks. "I was in Vukovar that day and I don't know the circumstances that led to the visit. I don't know the contents of the talks. I truly cannot comment in any greater detail. I am in contact with veterans' associations. In fact, those who have some knowledge of this event are reacting in an appropriate manner," he said.

The HVIDRA association of disabled war veterans on Monday criticised Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić for receiving Palma, whom they described as "a self-confessed Chetnik", saying that this was an affront to all veterans and victims of the Homeland War.

It is particularly incomprehensible that he came to Zagreb at the invitation of Mayor Bandić himself. "In doing so, Mayor Bandić humiliated the Croatian defenders and their families, Croatian institutions and our country, at a time of preparations to commemorate the sacrifices of Vukovar and Škabrnja," HVIDR said, calling on Bandić to apologise "to all those who sacrificed for the freedom of our country."

For more on Croatia-Serbia relations, click here.

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