Serbian police confirmed last week that they have detained 12 people suspected of involvement in atrocities committed in the Croatian village of Lovas in October and November 1991. They include four members of the former Yugoslav People’s Army, four members of a local Serb territorial defence force, and four volunteer fighters who belonged to a paramilitary unit dubbed “Dusan the Great”.
The suspects, apprehended on May 30th, are thought to have taken part in the torture, inhumane treatment and murder of 70 civilians in the village, located near the border with Serbia. At the time, Serb forces controlled the area.
After the arrests were announced, Serbian national television broadcast Croatian TV footage showing survivors recounting the incident.
One villager, Ivica Mujic, told how he and the others were forced to enter a minefield, where he was seriously injured. “We had to hold each other’s hands and go into that clover field. We stopped when we saw the mines, but someone jumped on us, we fell down and explosions were heard. They also shot us in the back. People were lying there, some dead and others wounded,” he recalled.
According to the Serbian War Crimes Prosecution, the case has been in the works for two years. At prosecutor’s instructions, the case was handled by Serbian police, the interior ministry’s Service for Discovering War Crimes and the Military Security Agency, which together questioned over 50 people.
Authorities also said evidence had been collected with assistance from the Croatian State Prosecution. Some of the suspects already have been charged in Croatia.
Aleksandar Kostic, head of the Service for Discovering War Crimes, told Belgrade media that the operation is in progress and more arrests are expected.
The Lovas crimes came up during The Hague trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. A protected witness explained how Serb forces forced a group of civilians to enter the minefield, resulting in 20 deaths.
The Belgrade War Crimes Court is currently trying defendants charged with the murder of around 200 Croat civilians in Vukovar, not far from Lovas, in November 1991.
Proceedings are also underway against individuals indicted in the killing of Muslims in Zvornik, the killing of a group of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in 1999, and the murder of the Bytyqi brothers — Albanian-born US citizens — who were also killed in 1999.