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May 23, 1994
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 139
War Crimes

In Hell Itself

by Jovan Dulovic

Dusan Vuckovic (age 30), called Repic, from Umka near Belgrade was indicted, as a member of the notorious volunteer formation ``Zuti mravi'' (``Yellow Ants''), on the charges of killing 16 and wounding 20 innocent civilians of Muslim nationality in the village of Divic and raping a 35yearold Muslim in Mali Zvornik (Serbia) whom he afterwards robbed of 1,000 DM. His elder brother Vojin Vuckovic (age 31), better known as Zuca, was charged as the commander of ``Zuti mravi'' with illegal possession of a large quantity of weapons and will defend himself as a free man. All details of the indictment have not been made known to the public. However, it is known that the brothers were suspected during the investigation of releasing bloodthirsty pit bull terriers on captured civilians and organizing nightly duels, i.e. forcing Muslims to fight each other with knives to death. Freedom was promised to the winner. District Attorney Branko Njegovan claims that on June 27 or 28, 1992, in the Culture Hall in the village of Celopek, where the population of village Divic was being held captive, Dusan Vuckovic singled out one man and cut off his ear (the manner mainly common to the units made up of convicts who were let out of prison in order to fight in Bosnia. A number of human ears they collected was a proof of their merits in ethnic cleansing campaigns, which was closely related to the reduction of their sentences). Then he fired the burst from a Kalashnikov (30 bullets) into the crowd. Dusan Velickovic allegedly admitted killing seven people.

Andjelko Trninic (age 27), a mechanical technician from Klubci near Loznica, and Dragomir Zekic (also 27), an electrician from the vicinity of Zvornik, both the volunteers of some paramilitary group (it was not said which) are currently standing trial at the same court for a brutal murder of doctor Milenko Vidovic from Mali Zvornik on July 16, 1992, as the prosecutor described it. The case is specific both for the motive and the way the murder was committed. Andjelko Trninic, who was arrested a year ago, remained categorical throughout the criminal proceedings and the trial, ``I slit his throat for patriotic reasons.'' Trninic is actually not defending himself nor does he feel repentant about the crime. He talks about it as if expecting an award for patriotic merits. The explanation of most interest is the one Trninic gave to the court, ``We had heard that Doctor Vidovic dealt with medicines and medical supplies so Zekic and I went to check. When we finished the drinks the doctor had offered I pulled out a gun and ordered him to show us everything he had in the flat. We found a huge amount of medicines stacked in the couch, on the shelves, in the chest of drawers. The doctor argued he needed the drugs for the patients he treated privately.'' ``It was clear to me that Vidovic had betrayed the Serbian people,'' Trninic concluded. Dragomir Zekic described the act of liquidation in detail, ``Trninic went to the bathroom with Vidovic. From what I heard I concluded that they were still talking about the medicines. Ten minutes later I was told to fetch a knife from the kitchen. I thought he needed it to open some box or to frighten the doctor. Then Trninic ordered the doctor to kneel by the tub...'' They put his body in the tub and left the house taking an automatic rifle and a gun. Trninic claims that he received the order to liquidate the doctor from his command that was stationed in Zvornik at the time. Court experts concluded that Andjelko Trninic was capable of controlling his actions at the time of the murder.

Most of what has taken place along the left bank of River Drina since the beginning of spring 1992 remains unknown to the public. It was clear at first sight by watching from Mali Zvornik that something strange was going on in Zvornik. The bridges on the Serbian side were blocked with sandbags. On them sat loaded machineguns with barrels pointed at the opposite bank, where a big sign saying ``Serb Republic of Bosnia Herzegovina'' marked the border. Beside the weapons, policemen in uniforms, members of military police, men in fatigues with no insignia, and several civilians whom everybody approached with a great deal of respect (members of the republic Ministry of the Interior) closely monitored the opposite bank. ``You have no idea what scum got together in Zvornik. The scum of the Earth. You're better off if you don't have to go across,'' the guards on the bridge recommended, adding that ``the robbers from Zvornik attacked the bridge on two occasions in an attempt to bring the booty and weapons to Serbia.'' Zvornik was swarming with various armed groups at the time: ``Beli orlovi'' (``White Eagles''), ``Azdajini ljudi'' (``Dragon's Men'') (whose leader called himself `Dragon'), ``Zuti mravi'' (``Yellow Ants''), ``Zute ose'' (``Yellow Wasps''), ``Celetovi dobrovoljci'' (``Cele's Volunteers''), ``Pejini gardisti'' (``Peja's Guards''), unidentified groups who called themselves `commandos', various divisions for special purposes... All of them looked at each other askance with rifles in their hands and bullets in the barrels.

``There is a quiet war for power going on here and the situation is very tense,'' explained the commander of the territorial defense of Zvornik who introduced himself as Marko although leaders of some units close to the authorities in Belgrade claimed that he is a certain Branko Popovic, the man who belongs to Mihalj Kertes, the Serbian official deeply involved in the arming of the Serbs outside Serbia. Marko said that each group that entered the town tried to take over control, specifically disarm Marko and the members of the territorial defense, then challenged other armed groups that also wanted power and eventually all failed. Marko thus survived as commander with no power or ability to establish order.

In the restaurant known by the name ``At Four Tits' `` (two sisters owned it) several kilometers away from Zvornik, the leader of one of the biggest gangs, said openly that he had arrived in Zvornik with his men as an independent Serbian Chetnik to cleanse the Serb land of Muslims, justifying the necessity of ethnic cleansing quoting the words of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, ``The Serbs do not have a reason any longer to beg the Muslims to live together in the same state.'' However, judging by the number of mostly female necklaces around their necks and rings on their fingers, it appears that paramilitaries used killings of Muslims as a coverup for looting. ``Tonight we handled the nearby Muslim village `in cold'. Not a single bullet was fired,'' said the volunteers in the restaurant feeling the daggers that hung from their belts. Psychiatrists would find that the majority of them are deeply unhappy, psychologically poisoned and mentally contaminated people who have managed to nurse such a level of aggressiveness thanks to the poisonous environment.

In Eastern Bosnia Vojin VuckovicZuca and his ``ants'' enjoy a reputation of being the most brutal gang. ``There is no life in their wake,'' members of similar paramilitary units said in awe. The Belgrade daily ``Politika ekspres'' wrote on May 13th that ``Yellow Ants'' ``had done a lot of evil in Bosnia'' and that the special forces from Pale managed to disarm and arrest the group at the beginning of August 1992. However, this was presented for the gullible. Allegedly arrested ``ants'' were shown on TV. But, the very same evening in the above mentioned restaurant near Zvornik both the ``ants'' and the soldiers celebrated a successful farce obviously aimed at deceiving the public. It was to taken as an act of the Bosnian Serb state removing criminals and looters from its territory.

By the end of August 1992 Zvornik and its surroundings were overrun by so many paramilitary soldiers armed to the teeth that there was no might that could disarm and throw them out of the town where lawlessness ruled. Everybody could do whatever they like, kill or loot at will, without fearing prosecution in spite of the claims made by the territorial defense commander that ``all institutions of the temporary government such as the legislature and the court are functioning,'' which is absurd considering the fact that no one even dared cast a stern glance on ``the liberation units.'' The expulsion of gangs from Zvornik remained to be wishful thinking. ``We have a problem with several armed groups,'' Marko said, ``but we don't know to whom they belong. We got in touch with Radmilo Bogdanovic, the then Serbian Interior Minister, and Vojislav Seselj, the leader of the Serbian Radical Party. We were told that they could not help since those groups had gotten out of control. Dragon and his men broke into the territorial defense premises and threatened to kill us if we continued to insist that paramilitary units leave the town.'' Commander of the biggest gang who always appeared accompanied by two scowling members of the territorial defense explained why he had a conflict with the territorial defense, ``Marko seems to have sent military police to disarm the volunteers. But the volunteers are better fighters and disarmed MP's instead. Everything will be solved when politicians realize that war cannot be waged from armchairs, but with a rifle in the hands.'' ``I think that this new communist movement is behind all these splits,'' he added. It wouldn't be quiet correct to say that these ``gangs of bandits'' (as the policemen from Zvornik labeled them) waged the war in Eastern Bosnia. What they did was indiscriminate killing and looting.

Muslim houses in Skelani were in flames on May 10, 1992, like those in nearby villages Mihaljevici, Redzici, Lonjine, Krasnopolje, Rzine, Dzafici, Osamski...'' It's a pleasure to watch it burn. The owner fled with his family because his restaurant was a meeting place of ``green berets'' under command of Ahmet Tihic,'' a territorial defense member who sprayed the place of Bekim Fehic at the entrance to Skelani with petrol said with a glow in his eyes. Burnt Muslim homes were later leveled to the ground by bulldozers. Apart from pleasure derived from watching the flames, an excuse is rather flimsy. Allegedly, Muslims never returned to their burnt homes.

``Never have there been so many vultures circling in the sky along the Drina,'' the people from Serb villages on the right bank stressed. They looked at Muslim houses being engulfed in flames with sporadic fire from automatic weapons heard in the distance. It was clear to everyone that ethnic cleansing was underway. ``This will bear more evil. The Muslims will return one day and have their revenge,'' an old man boded ill for the future while the others remained silent. No one gloated over burnt homes of their former neighbors. The old man's fears came true several months later: the Muslims returned and avenged themselves in the same manner in some mixed and some Serb villages. They burnt Serb homes and killed Serb population. There were almost no volunteers from Serbia in Eastern Bosnian at the time. Most of them had already fled to Serbia along with the stolen goods and weapons.

The outcome of the trial of Dusan Vuckovic, the first Serb accused of war crimes, is uncertain. It is also difficult to predict whether this action will be followed by prosecution of war criminals on a larger scale. Specially, since the international tribunal for war crimes committed on the territory of former Yugoslavia will not recognized the decisions of national courts.

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