(E) Milosevic masterminded ethnic cleansing in Croatia to create a Greater Serbia
Milosevic Masterminded ethnic cleansing in Croatia to create a
World - Reuters
Milosevic Trial Hears of Croatia Serb Atrocities
Mon Oct 7, 9:54 AM ET
By Abigail Levene
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Serbs rebelling at Croatian independence whipped up a frenzy of hate that spawned massacre, rape and torture, the Slobodan Milosevic trial heard Monday.
As prosecutors built their case that the former Serbian president masterminded ethnic cleansing in Croatia to create a Greater Serbia, a Croat former police investigator described an armed uprising by militant Serbs in the early 1990s.
"Rebel Serbs took over territory by arming the population and placing road blocks on all roads leading to the area," said Djuro Matovina of Slatina in Western Slavonia, a part of Croatia seized by Serbs and retaken by Croats in a 1995 offensive.
"Quite simply, they did not allow the institutions of the Croatian government to function there any longer."
Matovina, 53, described how inter-ethnic relations in his area deteriorated after Croatia held its first multi-party elections after 45 years of Communist rule in 1990.
Tensions were fanned by the creation of a local branch of the nationalist Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) of Croatia and by graffiti with pro-Serb symbols and anti-Croat slogans, he said.
A founding rally for the SDS branch boasted hate-ridden speeches proclaiming there was no future for Serbs in Croatia.
Some at the rally bore pictures of Milosevic -- charged with crimes against humanity in Croatia in a vast three-pronged case that includes genocide in Bosnia and war crimes in Kosovo -- while others wore Serbian flags "like scarves."
Matovina described attacks on police stations, which he said were organized by the SDS. In one incident, a Croat trying to drive through the mob was knifed after his car was overturned.
"He was stabbed and his stomach was cut so his intestines spilled out onto the road," the witness told the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, where ex-Yugoslav leader Milosevic has been on trial since February.
Prosecutors say Milosevic, 61, gave political, logistical and military support to Croatian Serbs who grabbed territory and ejected non-Serbs, and exerted heavy influence over a Yugoslav Army that gradually became a force defending Serbs.
Milosevic, who has refused to appoint defense counsel, used his cross-examination of Matovina to accuse Croats of atrocities against Serbs -- pressing his case that Serbs were victims not aggressors during Yugoslavia's bloody break-up last decade.
Matovina was the third witness to appear in the Croatia case, which prosecutors launched on September 26 after closing their case on Kosovo earlier last month.
Citing witness statements from survivors, Matovina described a Serb-run camp set up in August 1991 where he said dozens of Croats were maltreated, tortured and some even killed.
"We had a statement from one female witness who was kept there in a metal container, tortured and raped repeatedly."
The court heard of a December 1991 massacre in the Croatian village of Vocin, where prosecutors say scores of Serb paramilitaries including the feared "White Eagles" swarmed in.
"To all intents and purposes, they destroyed the whole of Vocin," said Matovina, who told the court 45 people were killed in Vocin and in neighboring villages.
The headless bodies of one elderly couple were later found buried, he said. Their heads were found in fertilizer bags.
The church in Vocin was shelled, and tons of explosive unleashed, destroying hundreds of houses and throwing the church roof two kilometers from the church itself, Matovina said.
"Vocin resembled Hiroshima," he told the court.
Matovina also described a huge influx into Slatina of refugees fleeing Serb ethnic cleansing.
Prosecutors plan to call a total 177 witnesses in a Bosnia and Croatia case that contains 61 counts covering 1991-5. The trial last week heard from a former moderate Serb politician from Western Slavonia and from Croatian President Stjepan Mesic.