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Image: First hearing in Zvornik Group trial in Belgrade

First hearing in Zvornik Group trial in Belgrade

Friday, 02 December 2005

On 28 November 2005, the trial of the so-called “Zvornik Group” commenced before the War Crimes Chamber in Belgrade. Branko Grujic, Branko Popovic, Dragan Slavkovic, Ivan Korac, Sinisa Filipovic, Dragutin Dragicevic, and Dusko Vuckovic, who died in prison last week, were accused of murdering at least 22 and forcefully deporting 1822 Bosnian Muslim civilians from the Zvornik municipality.
 
The first to be accused in the trial was Branko Grujic, who was the leader of the wartime headquarters in Zvornik at the time. Before the panel of the Belgrade District Court for War Crimes he pleaded not guilty of the charges against him, and not guilty of knowing but not preventing the murders and tortures committed by members of the para-military troop known under the name Yellow Wasps. The members of this group were Dragan Slavkovic, Ivan Korac, Sinisa Filipovic and Dragutin Dragicevic. The same charges were brought against Branko Popovic, alias Marko Pavlovic. The third-accused, Dusko Vuckovic, died abruptly on 20 November of this year in a detention cell of the Belgrade District Prison.

Dismissed
In his statement, Branko Grujic said that Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan had dismissed him from the temporary duty of leading the crisis headquarters in April, in the eve of the battles, but that he was elected president of the wartime government several days after the conflict and remained that until mid-July, when he was dismissed again. He claimed he had not heard of the Novi dom and Dom kulture [cultural centre] detention camps in Celopek. The indictment charged the Yellow Wasps group of taking away 174 inhabitants of the Divici village from the Zvornik bus station, while two unknown men took away 11 persons who never came back alive.

Serious abuse

The so-called Yellow Wasps and their fellow warrior nicknamed Pufa have been charged with serious abuse and cutting of prisoners’ limbs. The indictment, read by prosecutor Milan Petrovic, says that they had taken away detainees’ money and golden jewellery, cut their limbs, and murdered them after torture, ordering inmates to beat each other up and forcing fathers and sons to have unnatural sexual intercourse.

Adequate term

During the hearing prosecutor Milan Petrovic stated he had not been able to find an adequate term in the Serbian dictionary for the Zvornik crimes: “As a war crimes prosecutor, when writing this indictment, I could not find in the Serbian dictionary an adequate term for some of the things that had happened, and I hope that I have not offended the victims of these crimes by reading this indictment”, the deputy prosecutor of the Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office said after he had finished reading the indictment, accusing Branko Grujic and others of forceful deportation, murders, torture and other crimes committed in Zvornik in 1992.

Family members

The acts ascribed to the defendants were described in detail, especially the way and time of individual crimes committed in “Novi izvor”, the Cultural Centre in Celopek, Kozluk and other places, and no one who observed the process remained indifferent. For the first time the family members of the killed Bosnian Muslims, who attended the beginning of the trial of the “Six”, had the opportunity to hear about the torture and murders of their closest relatives, while facing those they regard as responsible for the crimes. Also witnesses of the events attended the hearing. This is the first war crime trial that is being transferred to the Serbian War Crimes Chamber by U.N. tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

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