Slovenia closes 'war crime' case despite TV evidence of killings

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Slovenian authorities have closed the file on the very first known war crime committed in the Balkan conflict as the former Yugoslavia broke apart. In fact, they have emphatically done so twice in the last few days. The Republic of Slovenia officially denies that any war crime was committed on 28 June 1991, despite film footage which recently surfaced showing the execution of three surrendering former Yugoslav army soldiers.

The footage, made by Austrian ORF TV, has shocked the Slovenian public. It shows three soldiers waving a white sheet in apparent surrender, in the north-eastern village of Holmec, near the Austrian border. They are calmly shot dead by Slovene policemen who had surrounded them.

The head of the Slovene Helsinki Monitor human rights group, Neva Miklavcic Predan, described the video as "the first documented war crime in former Yugoslavia," while many analysts compare it with the footage of the execution of six Muslims by Bosnian Serbs after the fall of the Muslim "safe haven" of Srebrenica in 1995.

On Saturday, echoing a statement first issued last Thursday by District State Attorney Harij Furlan, the office of Slovenia's state prosecutor, General Barbara Brezigar, insisted the case was closed.

The statements said that the prosecution established back in 1991 that there was "no suspicion of crimes having been committed at Holmec".

The statement added: "The finding was corroborated in 1999 by a special task force of prosecutors."

The Holmec case was a secret kept from the public for years, until a small newspaper carried an item on the shootings in 1999.

According to military archives, two of the three surrendering soldiers were Serbs, from the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina. They were Goran Maletic, 18, and Zoran Jesic 19, while the third was Antonio Simunovic, 19, a Croat from Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Slovenia waged a short and relatively bloodless war of independence in June 1991 against the army then known as the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA). At the time, JNA was mostly made up of secondary school graduates and conscripts. A total of 47 JNA soldiers were killed in Slovenia, most of them aged between 18 and 22, from all the ethnic groups of the former Yugoslavia.

The lightning "10 days war" in Slovenia was a prelude to the independence wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina that turned into savage bloodshed and devastation. Up to 200,000 people lost their lives in those conflicts unleashed by Slobodan Milosevic, which were marked by war crimes, atrocities and mass executions.

Even the Serbian War Crimes Prosecution has tackled the Holmec case only recently. The office has jurisdiction for war crimes committed both by and against Serbs in the former Yugoslavia.

Although the Slovene prosecution has closed the book on the Holmec case, the controversy is still alive. Miklavcic Predan is on trial in Slovenia for "deeply hurting the feelings of Slovene veterans of war" with her statements, and faces up to five years in prison for slander.

She said at the outset of the trial two months ago that it was a "political" case.

Slovenia, with a population of only two million, is the only former Yugoslav republic to have joined the European Union, of which it became a full member in 2004.

But although it has a squeaky clean image inside Europe, Slovenia's human rights record has been tarnished by its treatment of non-Slovenes.