Judith Armatta

Excerpt from the Book

Serb Soldiers Resist; Thugs Enlisted

[Excerpted from Chapter 8: War and Attempts at Peace]

While the world’s eyes were on Dubrovnik, the Yugoslav Army laid siege to another lovely old Yugoslav city for three months. Vukovar was reduced to rubble, while Dubrovnik was mostly preserved. What happened after the siege ended – a massacre of 264 people captured from the local hospital -- generated additional charges against Milošević. The prosecution related the events through a hospital director, two survivors, a JNA officer, and a Serbian journalist. Their testimony disclosed one of the ugliest chapters of the Croatian war.

C-57, a JNA officer who served in Vukovar, described the poor state of JNA forces, prompting the use of paramilitaries. He told of growing anti-war sentiment and widespread resistance within the JNA. When a general mobilization order was issued, “hardly anyone responded; the call up had almost failed,” according to journalist Jovan Dulovic. "There was an anti-war feeling among 90% of the reserve force, regardless of their nationality," C-57 said. Parents and relatives of the reserves (constituting 70% of the force) gathered around the barracks to prevent their children from taking part in the operation. The military out-waited the relatives and the battalion left for Croatia. When they arrived at the River Danube, the troops were told to be prepared for a serious clash as 3,000 Croatian MUP forces awaited them on the other side. A glance through binoculars, however, showed C-57 "there was no way that 3,000 people could have been there." Nor did the Croats provoke the JNA troops in any way, he said.

Courtesy of the ICTY. Goran Jelisic (self-named "the Serb Adolf") executes a prisoner in Brcko, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The JNA’s own actions, however, provoked reservists to rebel on several occasions. “It was a sort of passive mutiny. They expressed their revolt by abandoning combat vehicles, discarding weapons, gathering on some flat ground, sitting and singing 'Give Peace a Chance' by John Lennon. They asked to speak to the battalion commander personally or some other, even more superior, commanding officer in order to impart to them that they did not want to wage war and that they wanted to go home. . . . During that month [July 1991] we had 5-8 movement orders that were not carried out."

Resistance within the JNA among the reservists continued, resulting in an unsuccessful assault on Borovo Naselje when "an entire Novi Sad infantry battalion fled their line of attack," C-57 told the Court. It inspired other reservists. "Around 20 October 1991, due to the incident and the general mood, the reservists organised themselves in platoons, threw away their personal weapons on a pile and started deserting the units in the whole battalion. They were leaving on foot for Vojvodina across the Bratstvo i Jedinstvo [Brotherhood and Unity] Bridge in Erdut."

The JNA replenished the command with two busloads of volunteers "who joined the JNA by enlisting through SRS [Serbian Radical Party] branches. . . . [T]hey spent seven days at a JNA barracks in Novi Sad. There they were issued with JNA uniforms and had a brief training." According to C-57, "The replenishment of the unit with troops through the SRS was the result of very close cooperation between the SRS and the JNA leadership."

Arkan and his troops also "operated as part of the JNA, under the command of the Novi Sad Corps commanding officers." The witness's assertion was corroborated by a videotape of the Novi Sad Corps' commanding officer at a press conference, where he praised Arkan and his forces for taking Vukovar when his own men refused to attack. "The greatest credit for this goes to Arkan's volunteers! Although some people accuse me of acting in collusion with some paramilitary formations, these are not paramilitary formations here. They are men who came voluntarily to fight for the Serbian people. We surround a village, he dashes in and kills whoever refuses to surrender. On we go! . . ." C-57 also testified the order to incorporate Arkan's men in a JNA tactical group for attacks was made at the corps command level.

The SRS volunteers were "people from the margins of society," according to the witness. Not only was their training abbreviated, but they were not subject to regular military discipline. They looted and committed atrocities with impunity. In one case, "One of the SRS volunteers, Mile Ristic, cut off the ears of a Croatian prisoner in Luzac and brought them impaled on a stick to where the company was positioned. He was very proud of this. . . . One active-duty soldier . . . started vomiting when he saw the cut-off ears, and the rest of the radicals present there laughed at him because of this. I did not inform anyone about it because I had already received instructions earlier not to restrain them." His superiors were nearby and did not intervene.

Graffiti on wal in Sarajevo, peace symbol, anti-war epithet, photo by author

Even for regular troops, orders to abide by the Geneva Conventions were, at most, written but not distributed. In answer to the OTP investigator's question "whether we were instructed during these briefings to respect the Geneva Conventions and the laws and Customs of War, I can definitely say that we were not," C-57 stated. Based on his experience "it can be inferred that the Geneva Conventions and the Laws and Customs of War were not observed during combat operations in Eastern Slavonia."

C-57’s testimony was confirmed by a 13 October 1991 letter from regional JNA security chief, Milenko Djokovic, dated and addressed to the SSNO security administration. He writes, “In the greater area of Vukovar, volunteer troops under the command of Arkan and Kum are committing uncontrolled genocide and various forms of terrorism. . . .” Whether he received a response is unknown, but Arkan remained throughout the Vukovar siege and, as noted above, he and his paramilitaries were credited with winning it by the JNA commander.1

1 Letter introduced during testimony of Branko Kostic in defense case, 14 February 2006.

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