Amnesty International report on the Gospić massacre

According to the Croatian weekly magazine Slobodni tjednik of 22 January 1992, Tihomir Orešković, commander of the Croatian army in Gospić, was arrested in December 1991 – apparently in connection with the killings in Gospić – but was shortly afterwards released

Reports of the “disappearance” of a number of local Serbs from the town of Gospić first appeared in the Croatian press in November 1991. Since then further information has been published in the Croatian press, in the New York Times (25 January 1992) and in a report by the New-York based human rights organization Helsinki Watch (13 February 1992). According to this information, five or six armed men, four of them wearing masks, entered a basement shelter in Vlade Kneževića street at about 11.30pm on the night of 16 October 1991. In the basement were several mainly Serbian families who had taken refugee there from the fighting. The armed intruders were reportedly dressed in uniforms of the type worn by Croatian police prior to changes introduced in 1990. They demanded Radovan Barač, a local Serbian post-office worker and took him away, together with two women, Danica Barač (his mother) and Radmila Stanić, and four other men, including Stanko Smiljanić, a Serbian lawyer and his brother, Milan, who is mentally ill. Mrs Milica Smiljanić, wife of Stanko Smiljanić, herself half-Serb and half-Croat, witnessed the abduction of her husband and brother-in-law. Neighbours reportedly saw them put into one of two lorries waiting outside in the street. According to unconfirmed reports, on that night and following nights, up to 120 Serbs in Gospić and neighbouring villages were arrested and taken away.

On 25 December, 24 charred bodies (15 men and nine women) were found close to the nearby village of Perušić. They were brought to Široka Kula for identification. In January 1992 a Belgrade pathologist, Dr Zoran Stanković, reportedly stated that 12 of the bodies had been identified as Serbs who had been abducted from Gospić. Some of the victims reportedly died of gunshot wounds to the chest or back of the head. Several had their skulls smashed with blunt instruments, according to Dr Stanković. He said that one of them, a Serbian judge, Branko Štulić, had a knife wound in the neck. Milica Smiljanić was able to identify her husband by the gold wedding ring he wore which had her name engraved inside the band. She denied that he had taken part in the conflict and said that he had a “heart condition and was in no shape to be in any kind of an army”.

Gospić Orešković
Tihomir Orešković

The Croatian authorities have stated that they are investigating the killings and disappearances. According to the Croatian weekly magazine Slobodni tjednik of 22 January 1992, Tihomir Orešković, commander of the Croatian army in Gospić, was arrested in December 1991 – apparently in connection with the killings in Gospić – but was shortly afterwards released. On 21 February 1992 an official of the Croatian Ministry of Internal Affairs was reported in the Zagreb newspaper Večernji list as denying that large numbers of Serbs had been killed in Gospić. He said that 12 corpses had been found in the Gospić area, some of whom had been identified and were on a list of “disappeared”. He said that others alleged to have “disappeared” had in fact left Gospić and gone over to “the other side”. Further, he claimed that in the area where the corpses were said to have been found, there had in fact been a massacre of the Croatian population and that the Ministry had the list of names of those who had carried out the massacre (no further details were reported).

Amnesty International has been informed that a number of arrested or captured Serbs have been held in prison in Gospić. Such cases include Vasilije Kovač, aged 66, a retired Colonel of the JNA resident in Zagreb (see below). Amnesty International has also received information alleging that Vasilj and Zoran Gagić (Serbs) and Milan Mršić (a Croat) from Obrovac, Velebit municipality, are currently detained in or near Gospić. They reportedly went missing while tending their flocks. Amnesty International has been informed that the authorities in Zadar have confirmed orally that the three are held in the Gospić area, but that no further information has been provided about the place of their detention or whether any charges have been brought against them.

 

Amnesty International March 1992

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