Monitoring War Crime Trials in the Process of Dealing with the Past

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The witness Željko Pereško, at the time of critical event, as a Commander of the 2nd Platoon of Special Police, received an order from the Deputy Head of the Karlovac Police Administration, Zvonko Krajačić, to go to the Korana bridge in order to enter into negotiations with the Commander of the enemy units, Mile Peurača, and to forward an order to Mile Peurača requesting their surrender. During the negotiations at the bridge, the witness contacted Franjo Družek, the Commander of the Karlovac Police Administration Special Unit. The witness has stated that Mile Peurača was holding a bomb in his hand during the entire negotiations, and that a machine-gun mounted on one of the enemy military vehicles was pointed at members of the Croatian police. During the negotiations, two enemy tanks also arrived from the direction of „Logorište“. The first group of captured enemy soldiers, members of regular enemy units, were disarmed without any difficulties. The witness did participate in the arrest of the mentioned group of captives but was not involved in the arrest of other group of enemy soldiers. The witness has stated that his colleagues with masks on their faces were responsible for the arrest of the other group of enemy soldiers.

During the court hearings, the witness was supplying additional information to his statement given in the investigation procedure, and a discrepancy occurred between some of his new statements and the deposition he had given in the investigation. In the investigation, the witness stated that there had not been any shooting at the time when the (JNA) reserve members arrived to the Korana bridge. The witness stated that the captives had surrendered themselves and handed over their weapons. The witness had heard a machine-gun burst at Rakovica side of the bridge, and it lasted for 5 minutes. The witness had seen the (JNA) reserve members lying on the ground on the Rakovica side of the bridge. The witness stated that there was a rumour that the defendant Hrastov had been shooting at the (JNA) reserve members. The witness did not mention that he had actually heard the shouts „Run!“ or that he had searched the victims for weapons.

At the hearing held on 1 September 1992, the witness stated that, at the time of critical event, the town had been attacked, and fire was opened from all directions. The witness stated that the (JNA) reserve members were not searched for weapons, and that the captives had knives, some of them even had bombs. The witness stated that he had heard the words „Run!“. When he was standing on the bridge, facing the Mekušje direction, he had seen corpses behind the trucks, lying „scattered“ on the right side, in a semicircle, and two or three corpses had been lying on the ground (several metres) further away from the rest of the group. At the hearing held on 3 May 2000, the witness stated that he personally had searched the first group of enemy soldiers for weapons and that, on that occasion, he had found several bombs and knives. Mile Peurača was searched for weapons and he had a “Scorpio“ gun.

The witness stated that he knew that the Karlovac Police Administration operatives had not carried out the crime scene investigation and that Head of the Karlovac Police Administration had not been informed about the killing of the (JNA) reserve members on the Korana bridge. None of the Croatian policemen were injured during the critical event.

The witness Ranko Ribič stated that he, as Commander of anti-armour unit, and his group had received an order to prevent the Serb-Chetnik units from enetering the town. When the witness had approached the Korana bridge, he saw two trucks, a “Pinzgauer“ military personnel transporter and armed soldiers around the vehicles on the Mekušje side of the bridge. In addition to these vehicles, the witness had seen one battle tank in the vicinity of the water supply company, one tank near the football stadium, and he had heard a sound of tank moving near the turn of the road towards Mekušje. The witness had got in contact with Željko Pereško who had been in charge of the negotiations. During the negotiations, sniper fire was opened on Rakovica, in the vicinity of the bridge. After the surrender had been agreed upon, the witness and his colleague started searching one group of (JNA) soldiers for weapons. First, they were taking long-barrelled weapons, knives and hand grenades from the captives. Mile Peurača had a gun in sheath, while rest of the soldiers had the hidden short-barrelled weapons. After being disarmed, the (JNA) soldiers got on a truck and were taken to Karlovac.

When long-barrelled weapons had been taken away from the other group of (JNA) soldiers, the bridge came under heavy artillery fire, so the (JNA) soldiers were quickly checked and handed over to a colleague from Karlovac Police Administration whose name the witness did not know, and whose group of policemen had masks on their faces, and, meanwhile, it was getting dark. The witness had told his masked colleague to carefully search that group of (JNA) soldiers for weapons while the witness and his other fellow policeman ordered the first group of captives to get on a truck, and the two of them took the truck to Karlovac.

At 03:00 a.m. the witness received another order to return to the bridge, collect the corpses and take them to the Zagreb Hospital Pathology Ward, and the witness obeyed the order. Three or four members of the Special Police Unit and several members of the National Guard Corps helped the witness to load the corpses on the truck. When they moved the corpses, they noticed two or three pieces of short-barrelled weapons and several hand grenades.

The witness Darko Grujić stated in the investigation that the second group of captives, mainly constituted of regular (JNA) soldiers, had been taken away in a truck immediately after the group was separated from the reserve (JNA) members. There was a light (from a street lamp) on the right side of the bridge, at the base of the bridge. The witness had seen the (JNA) reserve members and Goran Čerkez who had been standing near them. The witness had noticed that there had been some hustle, the (JNA) reserve members started running, and after that, the defendant Hrastov opened fire. Ten minutes after the shots from Ultimax machine-gun had been fired, the witness also heard some pistol shots.

At the hearing held on 1 September 1992, the witness stated that he had recognized Goran Čerkez by Čerkez' large boots and large buckles, the witness could not recognize him by anything else since it was dark. The witness could barely see the events on the bridge, he obtained more indirect facts and drew conclusions later on from conversations (with colleagues). The witness stated that one captive had attacked Čerkez, and, at the moment when Čerkez had fallen to the ground, other captives started closing in on Hrastov, i.e. the captives started moving in the direction of Karlovac, and at that moment he heard the machine-gun burst and concluded that Hrastov was shooting.

At the hearing held on 3 May 2000, the witness gave statement about the shooting which had been initiated by the enemy soldiers; the witness stated that he did not know who had opened fire from a machine-gun at the bridge, and he stated that after firing the machine-gun burst everybody had started shooting.

The witness Goran Čerkez gave disparate statements in the investigation and at the court hearings. In the investigation, the witness stated that, at the time of critical event, he had arrived to the bridge along with the defendant. The witness stated that, at the time of their arrival, the enemy soldiers had already surrendered, the soldiers had already been selected. Young soldiers were to be transported; older reserve members were disarmed and were standing in the middle of the bridge, 12 or 13 of them, one by one. The witness and the defendant approached the group that was standing on the bridge, the witness was in close vicinity of the (JNA) reserve member who was the last in a row. That very soldier attacked the witness, threw him to the ground, started squeezing his throat and taking away his weapons. The witness had TT 7.62 mm hand gun tucked under his belt. The witness was wrestling with his attacker on the ground (on the bridge), when the attacker suddenly shouted „Let's run!“, and all (JNA) reserve members started running. At that moment, in order to save the witness' life, the defendant opened fire from Ultimax machine-gun on enemy soldiers. The enemy soldiers were falling to the ground somewhere at the end of the bridge. The person who attacked the witness also started running, and the defendant, who had a knife in his hand, came after the attacker. The defendant caught up with the attacker at the end of the bridge and hit him with a knife. Half an hour later, the defendant took the hand gun from the witness' belt and shot the (JNA) reserve members who were lying on the ground, firing a bullet in each person's head. After that, the witness and the defendant took shelter near the bridge hiding themselves from ongoing artillery attack. The witness stated that the defendant had acted in that way on his own initiative, and that the defendant was not executing anybody's order to attack the reserve members.

At the hearing held on 1 September 1992, the witness stated that the attacker had hit him in the crotch which made him fall to the ground. The attacker had shouted to his fellow soldiers to run, but they formed a group, a (semicircular) formation, and were closing in on the defendant. The witness had heard the defendant shouting „Stop, or I will shoot!“, and then he heard a machine-gun burst, and concluded that the defendant had opened fire. The witness was sure that at the moment of attack, his life, and life of defendant were harmed. The witness had noticed that (JNA) reserve members did not have long-barrelled weapons but he heard, from the person who handed the reserve members over to him and the defendant, that the reserve members had not been thoroughly searched for weapons. While he was wrestling on the ground with his attacker, he felt something in the pockets of his attacker. The witness concluded that those objects were hand grenades and that the attacker had a knife and some metal objects in his boots. Later on, the witness was dragged to the shelter since he was injured.

During this deposition, the witness stated that he had dropped the knife and hand gun. The witness could not explain how could he possibly create such an image, his own construction of the event, during the investigation, however, the witness did state that his brother had been killed which explained the situation he found himself in. The witness clarified that his hand gun dropped while he was struggling with the attacker and that he concluded that the defendant had taken his gun. At the moment when he was taking over the captives, his rifle was not ready for firing, it was not loaded and the barrel was pointing to the ground. The witness did not see whether the defendant had a knife or any object similar to knife. The witness heard about (JNA) reserve members' knives and hand grenades through conversations with the persons who later on came to pick up the dead bodies.

The witness Joso Vuković, at the time of critical event, was a member of the Special Police of the Karlovac Police Administration.

On critical day, around 19:00 or 20:00 hours, the witness went with his colleagues to the bridge since they had heard that the (JNA) army and „Chetniks“ were attacking. They had long-barrelled weapons and short-barrelled weapons. The witness initially took the position on the right side of the bridge, in a small trench, but soon moved and hid under the bridge because of shooting and shelling of the trench. The witness did not know how long he was hiding beneath the bridge. After the shooting ceased, the witness got out of his shelter and saw a “TAM“ truck approaching and corpses of “Chetniks“ lying on the bridge. The corpses were lying in the middle of the bridge, the policemen were dragging the corpses towards the truck; the witness was sure that the corpses were not grouped together (they were not lying in one place). The witness, along with some other policemen, was loading corpses on the truck. Wallets, coins, “Chetnik“ badges, lighters, hand grenades, cigarettes and other objects dropped from pockets of the killed persons. Afterwards, the witness returned to the police station using his personal vehicle.

The survived witness Svetozar Šarac, stated that they (he and his fellow soldiers) had stepped out of the vehicle in order to surrender. They put their weapons and equipment – semi-automatic rifles- on the pedestrian pavement on the bridge and lay down on the ground, bellies down, holding their arms behind their necks, just as they had been ordered. After that, they were ordered to go to the other side of the bridge, which is closer to Karlovac, where they stepped off the bridge and walked on the path which led towards “Ribarska kuća“ (“Fishermen's house“). There they were ordered to lie down again, and, immediately after they lay down, one man was slaughtered - his throat was cut. The witness had seen that Jovo Bižić protested against the killing of his colleague, so the witness concluded that Jovo Bižić was slaughtered too; the witness did not directly see the killing of Jovo Bižić. They were ordered to go back to the bridge. Three persons with masks on their faces and carrying automatic rifles approached them from direction of the “Korana“ Hotel and started shooting. The witness did not hear any orders issued, or verbal agreements made between special policemen to have them killed. The captives were ordered to fall in two lines, the witness was in the second line. The person who was standing in front of the witness, fell on witness' shoulder. The witness was shot in the 5th rib and he lost consciousness. When he regained consciousness, it was dark, there was blood around him, men were lying on the ground. The witness noticed that they had been dragged to another place from the place where they had been shot. The witness entered a cabin of the truck which was parked in the middle of the road to block the road. In the morning, when the (Croatian) Ministry of Interior operatives opened the door of the truck, the witness fell out of the cabin. One of the police operatives hit the witness with a rifle butt on his head and that was the moment when the witness lost his eye. Later on, the witness was taken to the Karlovac hospital. The witness has known defendant Mihajlo Hrastov since the pre-war period; the witness cannot say that Mihajlo Hrastov is one of the three persons who were shooting since their faces were under masks.

The witness Branko Mađarac, a survived (JNA) reserve member, stated that he had been in „Pinzgauer“ vehicle; that the vehicle had been stopped (by Croatian police) around 18:00 or 19:00 hours; that at the moment of surrender, he handed over the automatic rifle and four clips (the so-called combat set) which he had been given in his military unit; that he had not had any other weapons. After that, they received an order to cross the bridge, one by one, and reach the Rakovac side of the bridge, and to lie down on the ground over there. On the other side of the river, they were met by a group of 3 or 4 members of the Croatian forces. When the witness lay down on the ground, he was kicked and hit with a rifle butt which caused his arm to snap. The soldier Jovan Sipić, who was lying on the ground next to him, was killed by 2-4 stabs in his back and a machine-gun burst was later fired into Sipić's back. After that, the (JNA reserve members) received an order to get back to the bridge; they were walking along the roadway and reached the middle of the bridge. A person who was standing directly opposite to the witness, a taller man of sturdy build, approximately 180 cm tall, with a mask covering his face, and carrying the machine-gun, reloaded the machine-gun and opened fire on the (JNA) reserve members' feet. The witness saw his colleague, who was standing next to him, being shot with machine-gun burst. The witness got scared that all the (JNA reserve members) would be subdued and that their throats would be cut so he jumped over the railing into the Korana river. He fell into a shallow water, got out of the river and started running further downstream towards the “Korana“ Hotel. The witness took shelter inside a wide pipe where he was hiding until midnight. Then he crossed the Korana waterfall and reached Mekušje (JNA) military barracks in the morning. He talked about the event with a Serbian TV newsreporter. The witness lives in Sweden and wants to forget the entire event.

The witness Duško Mrkić, a survived (JNA) reserve member, described the event from the moment when they (JNA reserve members) were stopped by the Croatian police in front of the bridge. After the negotiations, they had to get off the vehicle and hand over their weapons. They had semi-automatic and automatic rifles, some of them had even hand grenades, while the (JNA) officers had hand guns. After that, they received an order to cross the bridge one by one. They were instructed to move towards the “Ribarska kuća“ (“Fishermen's house“), they had to lie down on the ground with their chest down and their arms on their heads. Four persons wearing camouflage uniforms and masks on their faces, approached them and started beating them. Jovan Sipić was the first person who was killed. The witness saw a flash of the knife which was used to kill Jovan Sipić; Jovan Sipić was kicked and beaten with rifle butt. When another (JNA) soldier protested against killing of Jovan Sipić, the masked men came after him but the witness did not know if the masked men were only beating the (JNA) soldier or if they actually shot him or stabbed him. When the (JNA reserve members) received an order to get up, it occurred to the witness that they would probably get shot so he jumped over the railing of the bridge. Three masked (Croatian) policemen opened fire on him (and other fugitives). The witness and (several other reserve members who attempted to escape) were 2 metres apart from each other, forming a sort of a line, and they were approximately 5-6 metres apart from the rest of reserve members. At that moment, the witness was shot in his stomach and he fell to the sand. Another person next to him was shot and fell down; it was Mile Peurača whose artery was cut, he sank into the river and disappeared. The witness was hiding under the bridge until 09:00 – 09:30 hours on the following day and then he crawled to the “Fishermen's house“ and asked an unknown lady to give him some water. The lady called a man standing on the road to help the witness. The man was a police inspector and he did not allow the (Croatian) soldiers, who also approached them, to kill him. The witness was taken to Švarča hospital and then was transferred to Duga Resa hospital, where the witness saw Svetozar Šarac. In Švarča hospital, the Croatian police questioned the witness about the event but he told the police that he did not know anything.

The witness Nebojša Jasnić, a survived (JNA) reserve member, stated that, around 17:30 hours on the critical day, 4-5 (Croatian) soldiers and policemen stopped them on the bridge and ordered them to get off the truck. After that, the negotiations commenced and lasted until the dark, when the (JNA soldiers and reserve members) surrendered. The (JNA) reserve members were armed with automatic rifles and had the ammunition (one clip placed in the rifle and the other one attached to the rifle with adhesive tape) which they handed all over (to Croatian policemen and soldiers). The witness did not have a hand gun or a hand grenade; he did not see any other (JNA) reserve members carrying a hand gun or hand grenade. After the (JNA reserve mebers) were disarmed, they had to lie down on the ground, bellies down. They could hear a sound of battle tanks. A younger (JNA) reserve member, Šolić, was ordered to go and meet the tanks, so he left in that direction. He conveyed the message that the (JNA) reserve members would be killed if the tanks opened fire. Somebody ordered the reserve mebers to cross the bridge, in a fast pace, two by two. At the end of the bridge, they had to lie down on the ground, with their bellies down. The (Croatian) police brought in the reinforcements. Somebody ordered: “Get up Chetniks, and turn around!“. The witness saw one of his fellow soldiers bend over, his chest twitching; fire was opened on them (JNA reserve mebers); the witness could hear the bullets hitting hard surface all around him. The witness was not sure if just one man or several men were shooting at them. The witness thought that fire was opened from one weapon. The witness saw a person who was shooting, the person was dressed in a camouflage uniform and wore a mask on his face, the person was standing opposite the witness, at the bridge-width distance. At that moment, since the witness was standing close to railing of the bridge, he jumped over the railing. The witness broke his two ribs on that occasion. The witness was hiding on the river bank closer to Karlovac, in the vicinity of the “Fishermen's house“ until the following night, when he took a shortcut and reached “Žeće“ factory around 03:00 hours. The witness approached the porter and contacted the police but he told them „a totally different story“.

The witness Ivan Vekić, the Republic of Croatia Minister of Interior at the time of critical event, stated that, on the mentioned day, there was the most severe attack on Karlovac. Some time before the morning (of the following day), the witness was informed that captives had been killed on the Korana bridge. The witness issued an order to Ivan Štajduhar, Head of the Karlovac Police Administration, to have the case investigated, which meant to have the crime scene investigation carried out, the autopsy made etc. and the witness informed the President of the Republic of Croatia about the event. After the witness received the report, he concluded that the entire event had not happened in the way he had been initially informed, and that those enemy soldiers had attempted to flee, and that one of the members of (Croatian) police escort had been attacked. Based on the mentioned facts, it was decided that the defendant was not to be taken into custody but to be transferred to Bjelovar, and to take the case to court.

The ballistics expert Damir Tomašek stated that, even after the reconstruction of the event, the position of shell-cases was still unclear to him, since the shell-cases that had been found during the crime scene investigation were not entered (drawn) into the crime scene sketch which was made on that occasion by the Karlovac Police Administration crime scene operatives. According to material traces, it was established that the distance between the person who had been shooting and the injured persons ranged between 5 to 15 m, and the distance was different for each of the 13 killed and 2 survived persons. 59 shell-cases of 5.56mm calibre, which had been fired from the Ultimax machine-gun, were isolated on the bridge and delivered for expert examination to the Zagreb Crime Scene Expert Examination Centre. In addition to this, 5 casings of 7.62mm calibre, which had been fired from other weapon (but not from any of the weapons delivered for the expert examination) were also isolated. The stated fact implied that two persons had been shooting on the bridge, however, it could not be established if they had been shooting at the same time and in the same direction. According to appearance and shape of wounds of the late injured persons, it was not possible to establish if they had been shot from one sort or several sorts of weapons, i.e. if only one person had been shooting or several persons had opened fire, particularly since the bullets, which had been taken out of the bodies of the injured persons, were not delivered for the expert examination.

The ballistics expert made all the versions of the situation plan based on depositions given by all witnesses who were present at the reconstruction of the event on the very crime scene. The versions made according to depositions given by the defendant Mihajlo Hrastov, witness Goran Čerkez, and witness Duško Mrkić matched with a possible position of participants of the critical event. The version made according to deposition given by witness Nebojša Jasnić was also possible, however, the witness had moved the entire event more to the right, to the bridge. The version made according to deposition given by witness Svetozar Šarac was less possible in relation to the place which he had pointed as the actual place where he had been standing during the critical event and the place where the persons had been shooting from.

It could not be ascertained with any certainty that mechanical damage incurred on the bridge railing had been made by the particular weapon - Ultimax machine-gun - that was delivered for the expert examination, however, the ballistics expert was certain that those damage had been caused by the bullets fired from that sort of weapon. Since the bridge was reconstructed in the meanwhile, it was not possible to connect with certainty the mechanical damage on the bridge and the critical event.
More than 100 gunshot wounds were found on the bodies of victims. As a part of evidence material, the bullets, or parts of bullets, either from the crime scene or the autopsy, were not delivered for the expert examination of the weapons. Gunpowder silicon castings were not taken at appropriate time.
The ballistics expert has taken an attitude that the injuries inflicted upon Svetozar Šarac might have been caused by fragments of the bullet which was fired from Ultimax weapon and which burst asunder at the moment of impact.

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