Levar said mass graves could still be found around Gospić, although some sites had been cleared by the military before tribunal investigators could examine them. He spoke of seeing truckloads of bloated, stinking bodies, mothers and children blown up by bombs and someone wearing a necklace made of ears.
By Caroline Smith
ZAGREB, Croatia (Reuters) – Three former soldiers Tuesday accused senior Croatian government officials of covering up the abduction and execution of scores of Croat and Serb civilians in the town of Gospić during the Serb-Croat war in 1991.
The three men, talking to foreign reporters in Zagreb, also accused the Hague Tribunal for former Yugoslavia of responding to their evidence so slowly that the authorities had had time to get rid of some of the evidence in the town.
Milan Levar, 43, former commander of a reconnaissance intelligence unit, Zdenko Ropac, 45, former secret intelligence service officer, and ZdenkoBando, 41, former military police commander, worked in Gospić at the beginning of Croatia’s war with its ethnic Serb minority in 1991.
– There were two kinds of killings,” said Levar. One was organized at a high level of the Croatian authorities in which all structures of the police, army and politicians took part – those were the mass killings. The other type of killing involved individual murders which happened more frequently but involved fewer people.
He said not only Serbs were killed but also Croats who did not agree with hardline nationalist policies.
Levar said mass graves could still be found around Gospić, although some sites had been cleared by the military before tribunal investigators could examine them.
He spoke of seeing truckloads of bloated, stinking bodies, mothers and children blown up by bombs and someone wearing a necklace made of ears.
– I was present at many abductions and arrests of people. Later, I found out these people were simply executed or they disappeared, said Ropac. There were 127 executed Serbs at the time I left, but we know that the figure grew
Levar said the total was several times that number. He said Gospić was now a dead place with no future.
Investigators from The Hague came to Gospić, some 100 miles south of Zagreb, in August 1997 and heard evidence from the three. Two of them then traveled to the court in December to hand over video and audio cassettes, photographs and documents.
Levar said the tribunal had promised to act and had asked them not to go to the press but the three complained to reporters about the lack of progress on the case.
They also criticized the tribunal for not offering protection to them and other potential witnesses in Gospić.
Tribunal spokesman Christian Chartier told Reuters he could not say whether there was an ongoing investigation into Gospić but said he had had contact with the three former officers.
It is difficult for us to arrange protection for witnesses who are not fully cooperative and who may compromise our work,” he said.
– I reviewed this very situation this morning and I am confident the tribunal’s representative offered them ways of being protected but these suggestions were all turned down. Cooperation is something mutual. I would think it was a two-way street, Chartier said, but added the tribunal was still willing to deal with the three.
Events in Gospić have made headlines before in opposition and independent weeklies in Croatia and last September four former Croatian policemen who allegedly killed Serb civilians were arrested following similar revelations.
It was a sign Croatia, which has been roundly criticized for a lack of respect for human rights, might be more willing to tackle some of the crimes its units allegedly committed during the 1991-95 war.
Many people who held positions of power in 1991 still hold high office in the military and government as well as the ruling right-wing Croatian Democratic Union party (HDZ).
Levar said the three former officers were not afraid that their testimony was being published.
– Whatever we have said, it does not change our attitude toward the Hague tribunal. We will bear witness and our testimonies can be published, he said.
understand the gravity of what has happened. These events have been covered
up systematically for seven years.
We thought the Hague tribunal was a means of bringing some people to
justice, or at least we thought it would bring about their replacement in
the high positions they were holding, Levar claims
REUTERS Reut15:28 01-27-98 SLUG: BC-CROATIA-WARCRIMES