THE HAGUE | 27.11.2012.

MASSACRE IN MINEFIELD

At the trial of Goran Hadzic, the prosecution continued its case about the killing of 21 persons in a clover field full of mines near the village of Lovas in Eastern Slavonia in October 1991. Two survivors gave evidence today: Milan Conjar, whose brother was killed in the incident, and a protected witness testifying under the pseudonym GH 095

The prosecution today called two survivors of the massacre of 21 Croats in a minefield near the village of Lovas on 17 October 1991, continuing its case about this incident at the trial of Goran Hadzic. The first witness, Milan Conjar, lost his brother in the incident; he escaped unscathed, miraculously. Another witness, testifying under the pseudonym GH 095 without other protective measures, was not injured. At the time of the incident, Hadzic was the prime minister of the Serb Autonomous Region of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srem.

In a brief examination-in-chief, Milan Conjar described the shelling of Lovas and of the local Catholic church before the Serb troops - the paramilitaries and the regular JNA units - entered the village on 10 October 1991. The police station commander Milan Devcic then ordered the witness, his brother and other villagers to report for compulsory work service. As Conjar recounted, the men who did forced labor got to ‘live to see another day’ - that was their pay, at first. Later they received vouchers worth a candle. Ljuban Devetak was the ‘master of life and death’ in Lovas. The War Crimes Chamber of the Belgrade District Court sentenced Devetak to a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

In a few sentences, Conjar described the night of 17 October 1991. He spent the night in the local agricultural cooperative and together with other Croats from Lovas went through an ordeal ‘difficult to describe with words’. The guards abused the detainees, forcing them to run the gauntlet where they were beaten with metal rods, bats and hydraulic hoses. Those who fell down took most of the beating as everybody would descend on them and beat them up, the witness said.

The witness who testified under the pseudonym GH 095 described the night in similar terms. The witness was ordered by Devetak on 17 October 1991 to ‘go beat the drum’ to call the boys and men aged 18 to 55 to gather up to ‘make arrangements about some jobs that had to be done’. According to the witness, the ‘lads from Valjevo’ in Serbia he described as ‘real soldiers’, tall men in drab olive uniforms, searched the men who had gathered there and took them into the coop yard. A total of about 70 men were gathered there.

After the night in which the men were beaten, Devetak and the commander of ‘the Valjevo men’, called Bokser, took out about 50 men and brought them to a nearby field in two columns. There they ordered the detainees to ‘keep raking up’ the clover to see if the field was mined. There was a shout, ‘wire!’, the witness said, followed by a detonation. Men instinctively dropped down on the ground and then the shooting started. Bullets were ‘whizzing and buzzing’ around. The massacre stopped when a JNA officer arrived and ordered that the wounded be taken to a doctor and survivors returned to the village. Although the ‘Valjevo men’ claimed that the ‘Ustashas’ - Croats - had mined the field the officer said that the mines had been laid there when the JNA entered the village. The names of the twenty-one persons killed by mines and gunfire are listed in the annex to the indictment against Goran Hadzic.

Before Witness GH 095 started his evidence, Hadzic’s defense counsel cross-examined Conjar. As the witness said, when the men reached the clover field, they were lined up. One of the villagers, Ivica Kraljevic, said he would step into the field first and a moment later, a mine exploded. The defense counsel asked the witness if Kraljevic ‘decided on his own to go into the field or if he was pushed’. The witness was flabbergasted and he countered with a question of his own . ‘How can you make a decision on your own if you are threatened by a gun’, he asked.

The evidence about the minefield massacre will continue tomorrow.