THE HAGUE | 07.10.2005.

THE VUKOVAR THREE TRIAL SET TO BEGIN

Ten years after the issuing of the indictment, the three former JNA officers charged with the massacre in Ovcara near Vukovar will go on trial. The prosecution case is expected to take about 25 weeks

The trial of Mile Mrksic, Veselin Sljivancanin and Miroslav Radic, the three former JNA officers charged with the massacre in Ovcara near Vukovar, will go on trial on Tuesday, 11 October 2005 – almost 10 years after the indictment against them was issued and 14 years after the actual crime. The prosecution intends to call about 70 witnesses – survivors and eyewitnesses of the crimes in Vukovar. Their testimony and the presentation of other evidence should take about 25 weeks. Mrksic, Sljivancanin and Radic are charged with persecutions, murders, extermination, torture, inhumane acts and cruel treatment of Croat and other non-Serb population. Those acts have been qualified in five counts of the indictment as crimes against humanity and in further three counts as violations of laws and customs of war.

The Vukovar three are held responsible for the execution of more than 250 Croat prisoners who were taken on 20 November 1991 from the Vukovar hospital to a hangar in the Ovcara farm. Before they were put in the hangar, the prisoners were forced to run the gauntlet of the Territorial Defense members, while JNA soldiers stood by and watched the prisoners being beaten. These soldiers were under the control of the accused. Later on, the indictment goes on to allege, the prisoners were divided into groups of 10 to 20 persons and took to Grabovo, a pit one kilometer away from Ovcara. At that location, the JNA troops, Territorial Defense members and paramilitaries executed almost 300 persons. Their bodies were buried in a mass grave with a bulldozer.

The indictment against the former JNA officers was issued in November 1995. Three years later, the UN Security Council made a precedent and issued a resolution explicitly calling for the arrest or surrender of Sljivancanin, Mrksic and Radic. The Vukovar three were for a long time among the most wanted on the list the fugitives indicted by the ICTY – side by side with Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and Slobodan Milosevic.

The "international reputation" of the three accused and the gravity of the crimes committed in Ovcara led Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte to withdraw her application for the referral of the case to national courts in Croatia or in Serbia-Montenegro. The judges agreed to the withdrawal of the application, concluding that the "case is not the most appropriate one of referral."

The prosecution announced in May that it would be calling about 70 witnesses and tendering 18 depositions. Many of the anticipated witnesses had already testified before the court in Belgrade about the same crime. The War Crimes Prosecutor's Office there is prosecuting members of the Territorial Defense and the paramilitaries – Seselj's men or Chetniks, as they were known. Some of the survivors from the hangar in Ovcara testified about their ordeal at the trial of Slavko Dokmanovic, former president of the Vukovar municipality. His suicide in June 1998, after the completion of the trial, prevented the Trial Chamber from delivering the judgment in his case.