25.05.2006.

MAJOR SLJIVANCANIN

At the first anniversary of the "liberation" of Vukovar, 18 November 1992, French journalist Florence Hartman asked Major Sljivancanin, "What happened at Ovcara?". The major answered, "We had to bury the bodies somewhere," Hartman said today, testifying at the trial of the Vukovar Three

The first news of the existence of a mass grave in the Vukovar area were made public at a press conference of the UN Human Rights Commission on 22 October 1992 in Zagreb. A few weeks later, Vjesnik, a Zagreb daily printed a story told by the only survivor from Ovcara, who described in detail the route the trucks had taken as they transported the prisoners from the Ovcara hangar to the execution site in Grabovo.

Florence Hartman, Le Monde's Belgrade correspondent, pursued the lead. Together with a colleague from AFP, she went in search of the "first mass grave since the 2nd World War", as she said.

On 27 October 1992, following the description given to Vjesnik by the man who jumped off the truck taking the prisoners to the execution site, the two French reporters took the dirt road from the hangar at the Ovcara farm to the lake at Grabovo. Near the site where pathologist Clyde Snow found remnants of skulls and human bones, they encountered the Russian "blue helmets" selling fuel to the local Serbs. In exchange for not being reported, the Russians agreed to take the French reporters to the site where the mass grave had been discovered. The site was guarded by six "blue helmets". One of them pointed to a few bones and skulls lying on the surface, saying, "There are bound to be many more underground". Florence Hartman write that in the report published in le Monde the next day. The article was admitted into evidence today.

Hartman went to Vukovar again on 18 November 1992, to attend the ceremony marking the anniversary of the "liberation" of the town. She recognized Major Sljivancanin as one of the people in charge of the evacuation of the people from the hospital. She decided to approach him and ask him what had happened at Ovcara. She expected, she now says, the major to answer, "how should I know", or "I don’t know anything about Ovcara". What the major said instead, she claims is, "we had to bury the bodies somewhere".

She didn't write Sljivancanin's reply down in her notepad because, as she said, firstly “one doesn’t expect to get a spontaneous answer to such a question" and then "you don’t ask such a question with a pen and pad in your hand – otherwise they would not be talking to you at all". What the major said, Hartman explained, was etched in her memory. Her testimony is based on that memory. She didn’t put the answer in her article published in Le Monde on 20 November 1992. She thought it was accusatory and she had nothing to corroborate it with.

Former OTP spokesperson Florence Hartman continues her testimony with the cross-examination by the defense counsel for the Vukovar Three – Mrksic, Sljivancanin and Radic.