In the first great exodus of Serbs from Western Slavonia in the 1990s war, 52,320 Serbs left the area due to Croatia’s terror, and a majority of them have never returned, the Documentation Center Veritas said yesterday.
One hundred and ninety-three settlements /10 suburbs and 183 villages/ were ethnically cleansed in the municipalities of Daruvar, Grubišno Polje, Podravska Slatina, Pakrac, Novska, Orahovica and Virovitica, where a majority of houses and properties were destroyed.
Twenty-seven Orthodox churches were destroyed or damaged, Veritas says in a press release, noting that there were numerous prison camps in the area where Serbs were tortured and killed.
Veritas says that from November 12 until November 18, 1991, members of the Croatian military police arrested 24 Serbian civilians in the Daruvar village of Kip and the Pakrac village of Klisa on suspicion of hiding military weapons, that is, for “relocation” of the population.
The press release says that these Serbs were taken to Marino Selo where they were incarcerated in a basement of an improvised prison “Ribarska Koliba” where they were physically and psychologically mistreated.
“They most often used waterboarding, they connected them to induced current, they cut off their ears, cut them on the chest, put salt on their wounds, beat them with metal and wooden rods,” the press release says, adding that only six of them survived the torture, while 18 were killed and the bodies of five of them are still being searched for.
Of the six accused members of military police of the Croatian Army National Guard, the Osijek District Court sentenced Tomica Polet to 15 years in prison and Željko Tutić to 12 years in prison.
The court acquitted two of them for the lack of evidence and rejected the indictment against one of them for the expiry of the statute of limitations.
According to the Veritas data, from October 8, 1991, until March 29, 1992, more than 100, mostly Serbian, civilians were killed in prison camps Ribarska Koliba in Marino Selo and Stara Ciglana in Pakračka Poljana, established by the special unit of the Croatian Ministry of Internal Affairs commanded by Tomislav Merčep.
A majority of those killed were from Western Slavonia settlements, from the areas of Pakrac, Daruvar, Garešnica, Kutina, Bjelovar, and Zagreb, and these settlements are outside areas where the Serbian population used weapons to oppose the violence of the Croatian armed formations.
In 2005, the Zagreb District Court sentenced five members of the Croatian Ministry of Internal Affairs /Munib Suljić, Igor Rimac, Igor Mikola, Miro Bajramović and Branko Šarić/ to prison terms ranging from three to 12 years.
They were sentenced for the murder of an unknown man and illegal incarceration of and extortion from three Serbs who in October 1991 “were taken from Zagreb to Pakračka Poljana where they were murdered by unknown persons.”
In May 2016, the Zagreb District Court sentenced Merčep to five and a half years in prison as he “failed to prevent his subordinates from conducting illegal arrests, tortures, and killings of 31 civilians.”
Civilians were taken from Zagreb, Kutina, Ribnjak, Janja Lipa, Bujavica, Međurić, Zbjegovača, and Pakračka Poljana. The ruling left out the victims /20/ for whom it was not possible to determine who arrested and killed them.
In February 2017, the Supreme Court increased the sentence to seven years, and instead of in a prison cell, Merčep is occasionally serving his prison term in the elite spa Krapinske Toplice, Veritas says.