A memorial service in the Church of Sts Peter and Paul the Apostles in Novi Grad was the beginning of marking the 23rd anniversary of the Serb exodus from the Republic of Serbian Krajina during the Croatian 1995 Operation Storm.
Director of Veritas Centre Savo Strbac said 777 victims of Storm were still searched for.
“According to the data obtained by Veritas, 1,861 persons were killed but the list is not final. Last year we added three more names,” Strbac stated in Novi Grad.
He noted that Operation Storm was specific because more than 65 per cent of casualties were civilians while the average of the 1990s war was 30 per cent.
In cooperation with partner associations in Croatia, the Veritas Centre launched a procedure to prosecute the Storm crimes before the European Court of Justice and relevant materials are collected, said Strbac.
“We hope to have better data next year,” he said.
Nearly 200 civilians were killed on the road from Glina to Dvor and no one has been prosecuted for that, Strbac pointed out.
Mayor of Novi Grad Miroslav Drljaca said that the events of August 1995 were the most tragic in the recent Serbian history and that the consequences were felt to this day.
“Serbs had fled a wide area of Croatia and are now scattered across Republika Srpska, Serbia and other countries. It is depressing that there is no sign that any of them might ever go back,” said Drljaca.
In August 1995, Novi Grad helped the unfortunate refugees fleeing Krajina as much as it could.
After the memorial service, candles were lit along the street leading from the church to the bridge over the Una River at the border crossing and flowers will be laid into the river there. In August 1995, the “bridge of salvation” was crossed by 100,000 Serbs expelled from the Republic of Serbian Krajina, mainly from Banija, Kordun, and Lika.
Numerous delegations will then lay wreaths to a memorial to civilian casualties in the settlement of Tunjica outside Novi Grad, the point where the Croatian forces entered Srpska in September 1995. Within two days of the offensive, 37 civilians, 18 soldiers and two police officers were killed and 17 civilians, three soldiers and one police officer were injured.
A memorial service will be held in the St Sava Church in Svodna near Novi Grad at 11.30 a.m. and at noon wreaths laid to the memorial cross which was erected in 2012 by Veritas in honour of six civilians killed in a refugee convoy shelled by the Croatian army.
According to the data provided by the Serbian Commissariat for Refugees, 250,000 Krajina Serbs were expelled, 1,856 were killed and 836 are listed missing.
The operation began on August 4, 1995 with an offensive on Banija, Lika, Kordun and northern Dalmatia.
Marking the 23rd anniversary of the exodus is organised by the Veritas Centre and Novi Grad municipality.
23 years since Croatia expelled more than 200,000 Serbs
The Serbian Commissariat for Refugees and Migration has marked 23 years since Croatia’s military-police operation “Storm.”
The operation resulted in more than 200,000 Krajina (ethnic) Serbs expelled from their homes in Croatia.
More than 2,000 people were killed or went missing, and the memory of a dozen kilometers long column of refugees who arrived in Serbia through Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) testifies to one of the most massive exoduses ever in this region.
Since the beginning of the wars in the territory of the former Yugoslavia in 1991, 610,000 Serbs from Croatia and BiH took refuge in Serbia, of whom approximately 18,000 still have the status of a refugee from Croatia.
Although more than two decades have passed, numerous attempts to establish a climate of trust in the region have not yielded much result.
Croatia will celebrate 4 August as a victory day, while Serbs will light candles crying for the victims and grieving for lost homes.
Despite the progress made through the process of regional cooperation and the implementation of the Regional Housing Program, there are still many outstanding issues, like unpaid pensions, dinar and foreign currency savings, people who were stripped off of their tenancy rights, the lack of reconstruction of more than 10,000 Serb houses that were destroyed in the areas where there were no war conflicts, and the return of the seized agricultural land.
What is particularly worrying is the lack of an adequate response from competent institutions of the Republic of Croatia to the growing number of ethnically-motivated attacks arising from hate speech, as well as absence of the protection of the Serbian language and script.
Such moves clearly show that refugees are directed exclusively at integration in the Republic of Serbia, because the return process has almost been stopped.
The return of the Serbs to Krajina is sporadic, and the Croatian state is doing everything so that it never happens in a large number by creating an atmosphere that brings the region back into the nineties.
The Commissariat for Refugees and Migration of the Republic of Serbia thanks international organizations, bilateral donors and the Delegation of the European Union to Serbia on all the funds invested in resolving the housing needs of refugees, but we should not forget the outstanding open issues that make it difficult to reach a lasting solution for the refugee population.
The Republic of Serbia considers that the continuation of the implementation of Annexes E and G of the Succession Agreement has a high priority, as well as other activities that lead to the resolution of refugee problems.
In that sense, further support from the international community is expected, and the Republic of Serbia is ready to cooperate and will continue to fulfill all its obligations.
A commemoration to the victims was held on Sunday, 5 August at 11.00 at St. Mark’s Church in Belgrade, as well as in many municipalities throughout Serbia, according to the statement.