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(E) BBC: Healing Vukovar's wounds
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  03/16/2004 | History | Unrated
(E) BBC: Healing Vukovar's wounds


Healing Vukovar's wounds

By Marko Kovac
Zagreb, Croatia

Croats Josip Jugec and Ivan Psenica both lost their sons in Vukovar.

These war veterans, in their early 60s, fought in the east Croatian town from the first day of the conflict to its fall, coming alive out of a gruelling three-month siege by Serb forces.

Serb paramilitary soldiers rejoice after capturing Vukovar in 1991.Their sons did not make it.
Nor did hundreds of other Croat men, women and children who were executed after the town fell.
Thirteen years on, Serb soldiers are in court for the first major war crimes trial in Serbia.

They are accused of one of the worst atrocities of the conflict that took place at Vukovar's pig farm, Ovcara. Vukovar, known as the "city of heroes", was one of the most comprehensively destroyed towns during the wars of the former Yugoslavia.

Situated in eastern Slavonia, it was the first Croatian region to come under the control of Serb forces after Croatia declared independence in 1991.

What followed was Croatia's bloody war to regain the territory. To many people, Vukovar became a symbol of struggle against the rebel Serbs.

Different world

Life in this picturesque town used to be different.

"We lived door to door with our Serb neighbours and never had problems until 1991," says Josip Jugec. Mr Jugec says no-one will bring him back his son  This was before many Serbs left Vukovar - some to join the Yugoslav army. The Belgrade trial gives no satisfaction to Mr Jugec.

"Nobody's going to bring me back my son," he says, hailing the trial only as "a small bit of justice being done". Both Mr Jugec and Mr Psenica know people on trial in Belgrade.

They also knew Mirko Vojnovic, who died on the eve of the trial from injuries sustained in a suicide attempt in January.

Mr Jugec is convinced some of his former Serb neighbours know who killed his son and where.

"But they don't want to tell me any names. Maybe that's better, because I don't know what I would do to the person who killed my 19-year old boy," he says.

'Too late'

Croatian human rights campaigner Zarko Puhovski calls the current Belgrade process a possible precedent in war crimes proceedings in the Balkans.

Mr Psenica wants the perpetrators of the massacre to be found
"The problem is that the trial has come much too late for the crimes that happened 13 years ago. Many people from Vukovar have waited for years for this to happen and have become desperate meanwhile," says Mr Puhovski.

His words are echoed by Ivan Psenica.

"The perpetrators have to be found. There will be no peace, until criminals are brought to justice", he says, pausing to catch his breath.

Mr Jugec and Mr Psenica remember the past while watching a British documentary on Vukovar, shot after it fell to Serb forces. The tape shows Serb paramilitaries parading in the streets, waving bottles and singing: "We will have meat, we will have meat, we will slaughter the Croats."

Croats are still haunted by these chilling pictures.

Many still vividly remember British television pictures of the local hospital where 300 Croatian men were taken hostage. Their faces told the story of an exhausted and hopeless people, who had sought refuge from the brutal day-in, day-out Serb shelling.
These pictures were their last, before they were transferred to Ovcara farm and brutally massacred by Serb forces. Forensic analysis showed that most of the victims were killed by a shot in the head. Others were hit in the head with a blunt object.

Dead bodies were thrown in a mass grave.

New mass grave

Unfortunately, Ovcara is not the only mass grave Serb forces left behind.
Just a day after the trial in Belgrade began, the Croatian government opened up another mass grave in Slavonia. They believe this one could turn out to be even bigger then Ovcara. The horror of Vukovar remains in the minds of many Croats and not just war veterans. Some will hope to recognize their children in one of the mass graves. Some will hope to forget everything.

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