Croatians count toll in a `clean war'
Tuesday 05 September 1995
There were 10 prisoners in the Knin secondary school, the one on the left badly beaten, red welts around the mouth and eyes, the one on the far right starved and weedy in the wreckage of a Krajina Serb army uniform, a pathetic thin beard around his jaw. Yes, they told us, they had enough cigarettes, enough food. But they would like a shower. They lived in one tiny room, mattresses on the floor, a burly Croatian policeman at the door. One of the European human-rights workers backed out of the cell. ``This isn't a prison," she hissed. ``This is a stable for animals."
Yet of all the Serb soldiers who remained behind when their colleagues ran away before Croatia's "Operation Storm" a month ago, these were the lucky ones. Upstairs, an even larger Croatian policeman was collecting photographs, snapshots from Serb houses before they were burned, groups of Krajina Serb soldiers and militiamen sitting on benches for their portraits back in the days when Knin was the capital of the farthest reach of ``Greater Serbia''. The Croatian policeman did not have time to hide the photographs before we walked into his office.
One showed an Orthodox funeral with militia guards, another a gang of plump Serb milicija in their sinister grey uniforms, yet another a bunch of slightly drunken soldiers, the camera capturing their stupid smiles some time between 1992 and August this year. Above one of their heads the policeman had inscribed an arrow in biro.
Found him yet, I asked? ``No, not yet," and the policeman tried to smile, his cheeks rising but his mouth unmoved.
It didn't take much to work out what was happening in the Knin secondary school. The Croatian security police riffled through the snapshots, trotted downstairs to the pathetic creatures in the windowless room and asked them - with or without a little persuasion - to identify the faces in the pictures. "That's how they ransack the Serb houses," a United Nations officer told me later. "They go for family photographs, any documents in Latin script - because they can't read Cyrillic - and then they burn the house down."
But lucky those prisoners in the Knin secondary school undoubtedly are; and a visit to the Knin city cemetery shows the extent of their good fortune. Almost a hundred crosses, erected by the Croatians, show the alleged number of corpses interred there since the Croatian army captured Krajina. But UN officials suspect that the bodies may be buried three deep - that at least 300 people, many of them civilians - have been placed there. Most of the crosses bear the legend "NN" for "No Name". A mobile digger stood ominously at the site, next to a newly scooped mass grave. For whom, we wondered?
Officers of the European Commission Monitoring Mission (ECMM) have equally grave doubts about the official figure of 524 supposed fatalities in all Krajina over the past month. "According to the [Croatian] authorities, 228 people had been buried in mass graves in five locations by 11 August," one of their official reports stated last week.
"Of 102 civilians and 126 military personnel, only 57 were apparently identifiable. It seems rather strange that so many should have been without ID cards. ECMM has interviewed witnesses who say their [Serb] relatives were definitely carrying IDs when they were killed, however their names do not appear on any of the lists. The [Croatian] authorities have stated that fingerprints and photographic records have been kept of all the unidentified bodies ... "
The suspicions of the European monitors have increased in recent weeks, as their report makes clear. "Granic [a Croatian official] stated on 24 August that of all the 524 victims from Operation Storm, only 24 civilians had been identified, when in SS (UN Sector South) alone there were 33 identified civilian corpses on 11 August. The figures are either extremely inaccurate or there are mass graves unaccounted for. It can only be presumed that the corpses observed over the last week are merely the tip of the iceberg."
If any observers remain unconvinced by this devastating assessment, they have only to read the report of the UN human-rights team, led by Petr Soucek, which wrote to the organisation's humanitarian- affairs officer from south-western Krajina on 30 August. "In Gracac gravesite we saw 81 graves (crosses)," his report said. "Only a few crosses bore a name of the soldiers. There were 22 more crosses than on 18 August when the site had been visited last time. In Korenica grave site, we found 21 crosses ... with no names"
Then the report takes on a chilling tone. "In the Czech battalion area located in Korenica, I was informed by the Operations officer that on Sunday 5 August, 21 Serb civilians had been seen ... chased by Croatian soldiers along the Czech battalion base. Later on, soldiers had heard inhuman screaming and then shooting. It might be just a coincidence between those 21 civilians and the 21 graves with no names on them!"
Nor is there any end to the Croatian depredations in formerly Serb Krajina. Over the weekend, Croatian troops burned 98 per cent of the houses in five more deserted Serb villages in the Cetine valley, once home to around 1,800 Serbs. The graffiti on a wall which I saw in the gutted village of Kistanje, west of Knin, summed up the emotions of the victorious Croatian army whose supposed discipline has been widely praised in Croatia and abroad. "Ovo ste trazili," it said."You were asking for it."
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