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January 31, 1994
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 123
The Case of Srdjan Djeric, Part 3

The Undertaker's Story

by Ivan Radovanovic and Perica Vucinic

The trial linked to the accident in Subotica was thus brought to a close with the judge advising the father of Srdjan Djeric to seek the answer to the question who is buried in his son's grave at a separate court trial. Judge Jelusic said that eyewitnesses had confirmed that it was Srdjan Djeric who was killed on May 4 and that the fact that Miodrag Djeric found a mutilated body in the grave and remained convinced that it was not his son's had nothing to do with the trial.

After everything that has taken place there is no one who could possibly persuade Miodrag Djeric that he and his son are not a part of some grand mystery. Zoran Stankovic, a pathologist at the Military Academy Hospital who gave an expert opinion at the trial, said that he could not understand a lack of flexibility and efficiency of the legal military organs. ``Why don't they allow the exhumation of the body so that all doubts could be dispersed?''

Miodrag Djeric had his first doubts after he received two death certificates which Judge Jelusic would later qualify as an administrative error. What ensued were endless visits to various cabinets, meetings with judges, generals and ministers, visiting the site of the accident... (the articles in the two previous issues of VREME)

He was told that his son had been in an armored personnel carrier, that one soldier fired the antitank rocket and that nothing had been left of his son. ``On the site of the accident we found the upper part of the body, arms and bones, which were charred. The lower part was in a slightly better condition,'' Stankovic explained later at the trial and added that he had been able only to examine the body during the autopsy but was unable to do a dissection since ``the body disintegrated at every touch.''

Stankovic's testimony, which is identical to what he had written in his autopsy report, represents an important part of the mystery which bothers Miodrag Djeric. On July 27, 1993, Miodrag dug out his son's grave and found a mutilated body (without arms, legs, ears, eyes, nose...), which was unlike anything he has seen described in the report. Several relatives and friends of Miodrag Djeric, who attended the exhumation, were to confirm later that the body which had been found was not charred and had all organs which Stankovic listed as burnt and missing.

The events which followed, when Miodrag was called by people from the Serb Republic in BH who told him that his son was alive and would arrive home at any moment only fueled the doubts of unfortunate Djeric. He finally decided to make the story public and everything was to end (at least Miodrag thought it would) with a trial in the Military Court in Belgrade which began on Monday, January 24. Doctor Stankovic appeared before the Judge on the third day of the trial and in his testimony offered a possible solution for the case. He believes a `technological error' is possible, i.e. the wrong number on the wrong body.

Like the majority of those killed on the front or in the army barracks, Srdjan was taken to the Institute for Pathology of the Military Academy Hospital, where he was to be put in the coffin after the autopsy. Doctor Stankovic claims that the undertaker's ``Zikic transport'' was in charge for outfitting and transporting the victims. ``It was their responsibility to outfit and transport the remains from the Institute for Pathology to the burial ground. Was everything done according as agreed? I assume it was, but a mistake is not to be ruled out,'' Stankovic said.

Since the story about the exhumation was taken off the agenda of the trial, Dragoljub Zikic, the owner of the firm ``Zikic transport,'' did not have an opportunity to appear before court and give his testimony. Instead he told VREME that a mistake was impossible. ``I fulfilled all orders I received,'' Zikic said and explained that he was in charge of soldering tinplate coffins.

``A special team would bring the corpses and place them in the coffins. I was responsible for closing the coffins.'' The undertaker recalls having closed the coffins with unidentified bodies throughout that year but ruled out the possibility of a replacement of bodies and underscored that other people marked the bodies. Zikic also claims that he did not transport the body which was brought to the house of Miodrag Djeric in the village of Tulez near Aranjelovac on May 6.

The story of Dragoljub Zikic will probably be the subject of some other trial. The one held in the Military Court in Belgrade passed without it, but was, nevertheless, interesting. Captain Milovan Kukolj and Sergeant Zoran Matovic appeared before Judge Jelusic. Kukolj was charged with a criminal act from Article 212 of the Criminal Law of the Federal Republic of Yugoslaviathe failure to undertake measures for protection of army units, and Matovic with the criminal act from Article 213the failure to provide safety during training exercises. When he saw the charge, Vladimir Gajic, the attorney of Miodrag Djeric, said, ``It would be a sin to convict the two of them.''

Nobody knows whether Judge Jelusic will have the same opinion, but it is certain that these two officers have been plunged into the story without a chance to change its course in any way.

The trial has cleared up the following: The soldiers of both the Yugoslav Army and the Army of the Serb Republic in Bosnia were in the barracks in Subotica at the time of the accident. Both the Yugoslav Army and the Bosnian Serb Army soldiers were having compressed training. About two weeks before the accident the orders arrived in the barracks that the base be on full alert and that all weapons be loaded with live ammunition, including the carriers used for the soldiers' training. The officers were not able to even on their own initiative empty the equipment for training at the time of the accident as there was a shortage of containers for antitank rockets in the army barracks in Subotica. There is an insufficient number of officers in the garrison in Subotica so that the soldiers who have good marks are forced to provide training. The battalion commander was ill the day when the accident took place so that Captain Kukolj, who substituted for him, had no time to do his regular job. The commander of Srdjan Djeric's company did not show up at work on the day of the accident so that Sergeant Matovic was the company commander that day. The soldiers went to the training ground in two carriers full of ammunition and Sergeant Matovic, the only officer, who had no deputy or corporal. Other sergeant who worked with the army in Djeric's unit had a day off so Matovic had to do his job. The training program for Djeric and other soldiers on that day required six squad leaders but had none since there weren't any of them in the barracks.

In few words, everything simply had to happen. While Sergeant Matovic was next to one carrier, in another carrier soldier Srdjan Djeric undertook an exercise and soldier Sasa Boskovic took the antitank rocket from the rack. ``I didn't hear anything,'' Zoran Jovanovic, who was in the carrier, testified. ``All of a sudden I was on fire, outside, rolling on the ground trying to put out the flames. I regained consciousness in hospital.''

Ten days after the accident Sasa Boskovic died, never coming out of a coma.

He was remembered as a lively soldier. ``What should I say,'' his mother asked at the trial. It was only then when Miodrag Djeric decided to tell the story eight months later athat the public learned about the tragedy, oversights and military blunders which followed it as well as about doubts of Miodrag Djeric and possible mistakes during the takeover of the body. The Yugoslav Army has not issued an announcement regarding the case to this day. The meeting which the Yugoslav Army's Information Service promised to the journalists of VREME never took place.

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