An association of former Croatian prisoners of war has asked the Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic to allow them to visit the site of their former prison in Stajicevo, a village in the Vojvodina region.The Croatian ambassador to Belgrade passed on a letter from the NGO “Association of Jurists Vukovar 1991” to President Nikolic on Tuesday.
“We are asking you to use your authority to help us establish the truth about the events that took place in 1991 and 1992, and to allow us to visit Stajicevo on October 6, to light a candle for all those killed, ” wrote the NGO.
This is the third attempt by the association to organise a visit by former prisoners to Stajicevo, a village near the town of Zrenjanin. The prisoners from Vukovar were imprisoned in a barn in the village after Serbian forces crushed the Croatian resistance and captured the city in November 1991.
In 2009, the local authorities in Zrenjanin gave the NGO go ahead to organise a visit. The Serbian state authorities also said that an organised visit by the ex-prisoners would be allowed.
The trip was cancelled, however, just a few days before the visit, because Serbian war veteran’s associations had announced that they would demonstrate against the event.
According to the Croatian government, more than three thousand prisoners captured in Croatia were taken to prison camps in Serbia and Montenegro during the war, and more than five hundred to prisons in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Colonel Ivan Grujic, an assistant to the Croatian war veterans ministry, appeared as an expert witness about those events at the trials of Slobodan Milosevic and Milan Martic at the Hague Tribunal, ICTY.
Grujic also testified at the ICTY trial of the JNA officers Mile Mrksic, Miroslav Radic and Veselin Sljivancanin, who were tried for war crimes in Vukovar.
In an interview with Novi list, a Croatian daily newspaper, in February last year, Grujic stated that “Croatian prisoners of war and civilians were imprisoned in 64 camps and prisons, located in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Hercegovina and the formerly occupied territories of Croatia.
“These camps were established between July and October 1991, and there’s no doubt that that their use was pre-planned, part of a highly organised and unified prison system controlled by the then Yugoslav national army, the JNA”, Grujic said.
The current mayor of Vukovar, Zeljko Sabo, was one of the prisoners who were taken to Serbia, as was the current Croatian war veteran’s minister, Predrag Matic.
Both men were captured in Vukovar after the fall of the city on November 18, 1991, and were imprisoned in Stajicevo, Sremska Mitrovica and Nis. They were released on August 14, 1992, after an exchange of prisoners of war was arranged between between Croatia and then Yugoslavia.
The Serbian authorities have never admitted to the existence of prisoner of war camps on their soil.
Croatian prosecutors filed an indictment in 2010 against the JNA general Aleksandar Vasiljevic, who commanded the JNA counterintelligence service, KOS, during the war, and Colonel Miroslav Zivanovic for war crimes committed in the camps.
Nineteen prisoners were killed, many women raped and many prisoners tortured, the indictment claims. It was sent to the Serbian Special prosecutor for war crimes in Belgrade, whose office has stated that it has begun preliminary investigations, based on the indictment.