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May 29, 1995
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 191
Pakrac: The Serbs Who Stayed Behind

People and Property Sale

by Uros Komlenovic

The attitude of the police in Pakrac towards the remaining Serbs is all right unlike the attitude of the army which robbed houses and grabbed money and cars the first day. The Serbs complained about Croat civilians, especially traders.

A middle aged Serb showed me a huge bruise on his arm; a souvenir of Varazdin and police interrogation. He said he would sell is things and go: "I made a deal with one man to sell my tractor for 4,000 German marks. Another one came up with threats and said I had to sell it to him for 1,000. Take it, take it, I just want to go."

Traders started flooding into Pakrac just days after the Croats captured it, initially buying cattle and household items for close to nothing; they got 35 sheep for 1,000 marks and made other similar deals. Threats are frequent.

"We know there are verbal provocations," said Biserka Momcinovic and Veronika Reskovic, activists of the Croatian Anti-War Campaign and civil human rights board. They and Petar Ladjevic of the Serb Democratic Forum in Zagreb are on constant duty in an improvised human rights office. "Groups from Pakrac come through buying houses and land at laughable prices," they said and added that they are worried by reports that the houses of Serbs who leave are ransacked as soon as the convoy is gone.

The new chief of police in Pakrac, Nikola Ivankec told VREME he knew things like that happened and added that the police is trying to stop it: "Many homes have been abandoned and we check the origin of goods coming through our checkpoints. We organized a fair at Gavrainica (a part of Pakrac under Serb control once) to prevent the sale of cattle at low prices privately. Three thousand people gathered mixed and there were no incidents. That encouraged us to believe that the process of restoring mutual trust is possible. It's also encouraging that we have not had any case of endangered property or personal safety for a few days."

To the Serbs in Pakrac safety is a relative concept. It's not easy to fall asleep at night. Lights are lit only if really needed and no one leaves their home. Only dogs bark and howl in the dark. The sound of the dogs is strange; the owners left and there was no room for guard dogs in the convoys.

"Of course I'll leave," one Serb said, surprised at the question. "I just want to sell the little I have and I'll go. I know what it's like for refugees in the (Bosnian) Serb Republic but I can't stay. I won't let them slap me around anymore."

That man is just one of 1,500 Pakrac residents taken to camps in Bjelovar, Varazdin, Pozega immediately after the surrender. It was worst in Varazdin, probably because the UN never showed up there in the first two days.

"They hit you when you sit, when you stand, when you want to piss," one of the released prisoners said showing his bruises and turning to his friend: "It was easier for you in Bjelovar at least they didn't beat you." His friend replied: "They made us sing the Croat anthem, raise our hands in Nazi salutes. They kept playing the anthem and forcing us to hold our right hands over our hearts. As soon as it starts you have to jump up or else... We didn't sleep at all. And when they took us back the military police made us slap each other all the way to Pakrac."

A prematurely gray haired young man said he was in Bjelovar and wasn't beaten but he added: "If I had to go through it again I'd kill myself first."

The police said they didn't have exact figures to show how many were taken away, how many released and how many were still in custody. They have an approximate figure of 1,500 who were taken away and estimated that about 10% would be kept in prison.

"Preliminary interrogations were necessary because there were still a lot of weapons to be handed in," Ivankec said. "the lists of people taken away were given to European organizations and Red Cross. We are waiting for the courts to rule how many will be released and against how many charges will be raised. The president pardoned everyone charged with armed rebellion but that does not cover the ones suspected of war crimes."

The criteria of the Croatian judiciary will be known soon in regard to war crimes but the discrepancy in figures voiced by human rights organizations and police are a cause for anxiety. The Croatian side says 188 people are in custody (a police official in an informal talk), the media say over 190 and peace activists said no one was released since the figure of 540 still in custody was released. The word missing is being mentioned as well.

"No one has those figures," Ladjevic said. "We don't know how many were taken away or released, nor how many are still in custody and under what status. We don't know how they're being treated in jail and in regard to the camps that have been abolished since it depends where someone was. We talked to some 10 people who said they were treated fairly well in Bjelovar but everyone who came from Varazdin complained of various forms of abuse, especially physical abuse. There were complaints of harsh violations of human rights and robbery under armed threat. The main problem is the figures: we don't know the number of dead or wounded nor where the wounded were taken."

Hiding figures creates even greater traumas. The first day of the Croatian attack, shells landed on the school playing field in the village of Seovica while children were running across to hide. Branislava Krajinovic (age 6) and Milka Bosanac (14) were killed along with an elderly woman. Milka's sister, Jovanka (17) was wounded. She was put in an ambulance which left for Okucani but the road was cut off and Jovanka Bosanac was left in the village of Rogolj where he trial grows cold. The authorities would not allow her desperate mother (whose husband was killed in 1991) to look for her daughter in the Kutina hospital when she was reported to be there. Jovanka managed to cross to the Bosnian Serb Republic and her mother is trying to find her through the Red Cross.

The concealing of the figures on dead, wounded and arrested is certainly not encouraging the remaining Serbs to stay under Croatian authority. Many have already left, some are preparing to leave. "If there was some semblance of safety, maybe I'd stay," one woman said. "The police are really all right, the civilian authorities as well, but will it stay that way?"

According to official police figures, 1,788 people left Pakrac and the surrounding are up to last weekend. At the same time 634 birth certificates were issued along with 394 ID cards and two passports. Almost 1,000 requests were filed for citizenship and the justice ministry issued 294 requests for citizenship papers. Many are disregarding the possibility of getting documents.

Momcinovic and Reskovic tried to convince one woman to think twice before leaving and get documents so she can sell or trade her property. The woman fled Kusonja at the start of the war. She stayed with her mother in a village near Pakrac for several months but fled to Bosnia with several thousand others in late 1991. She lived here for a while, came back to Pakrac and just as she was getting things in order the Croatians attacked. "You're not just going to leave all that property," the peace activists said. The woman just stared at them blankly, listening but obviously not hearing. She wants to go.

The police and some humanitarian workers complain about the UN. The peacekeepers are allegedly encouraging the Serbs to leave indirectly. Sector South commander, Argentine general Carlos Roberto Matalon denied those claims for VREME: "We only do what both sides want. Our job is to convince people to stay and protect them. We also protect the ones who go to Bosnia. We patrol the entire sector. We are here to help as much as we can. In regard to civilian provocation, we are helpless: we can't preen people from talking. We have no complaints about the behavior of the authorities."

There are some among the Serbs who want to stay. They know what's waiting for them if they join Karadzic: resettlement in places within range of enemy artillery, front line posts for recruits and a good chance of having to move again ( a third or fourth time for many). In Croatia, they can hope for peace and perhaps normal life but they also have to swallow some humiliation until things calm down.

Branka Nenadovic: A Pakrac Story

Branka Nenadovic, a retired teacher of Serbian language and literature from Belgrade, joined the Most humanitarian group last summer. the group was working on the Pakrac project together with humanitarian workers from Croatia and international organizations trying to stage a social revival in the divided town.

Nenadovic worked with children in so-called psychological workshops, poetry classes, taught them calligraphy. The aim was to free the kids of traumas of war and teach them something in the process. She spent a total of three months in Pakrac on three occasions. Her fourth visit was on April 8 this year.

Nenadovic told VREME of the killing of two girls and an old woman when an artillery shell landed the school playground in Seovica village. She said women and children were in their houses or in cellars and that fear came later.:

"There was less shooting on May 2, a day later the disarming began and we lost some of our fears. I went to see our offices and ask after the children I hadn't seen. Little Verica (13), unbelievably serious and calm warned me where snipers were shooting. On Thursday, May 4, the shelling started again, even worse than the first day.

We saw Croatian troops passing by through our windows, faces painted looking fierce. They shouted: get out onto the streets, whoever stays inside will be killed! The police followed them. We went out in front of our houses. The police ordered the men to come with them and let the rest go back inside.

A tense night followed. The police were shouting on the streets, gathering up weapons which had been left behind and there was gunfire in the forests.

On Friday, May 5, the census began and the houses were searched. A man in plain clothes came to see us with several policemen. I showed them my international volunteers card and hey didn't ask for other documents. They searched everywhere but their behavior was all right.

Later the UN came in and took our names again. On Saturday, May 6 people got brave enough o work in their back yards."

Nenadovic said the police started coming up to them.

"They'd come for coffee, explaining that there was no reason for fear that we would all be protected.

The men slowly started coming back from prison, electricity was restored, phone booths were put back up but the fear never went away completely. Lists were started for the convoys to take people away: first the Croatian office then UNPROFOR. The first convoy left on May 10. The people who left first left their cattle to roam the forest. Later traders came in and bought cattle for close to nothing until a market was organized and prices stabilized."

Branka Nenadovic left Croatia last weekend. She had no trouble getting across the Terezino Polje crossing near Virovitica. She intends to continue her work and explained that Most has a lot to do in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Veljko Dzakula: I'm Staying

Unlike the loud mouthed patriots who stay in secure spots, Western Slavonia Serb leader Veljko Dzakula (frequently accused of treason) stayed in Pakrac with the people who elected him. Other local officials also stayed: Miroslav Grozdanic, Obrad Ivanovic and Mladen Kulic who's still in a Croatian jail.

It's not hard to find Dzakula in Pakrac; just follow the long line of Croatian reporters, UN representatives, Croatian politicians, army and police officers.

"We're asking for international protection of territory. We want demilitarization and an UNCRO mandate equal to the one in other parts of the RSK; safety and freedom of movement guarantees for all our citizens from the international community and the freedom to leave or come back for anyone who wants to; UNCRO deployed across the parts of Western Slavonia that have been ethnically cleansed including areas the Serb fled in 1991; a political solution as part of the overall solution to Serb-Croat relations and programs to restore houses headed by international humanitarian and non-governmental organizations.

We understand international organizations won't recognize ethnic cleansing and we will try to do everything to find an acceptable solution for the people who have nowhere to go and want to come back. We insist that all prisoners must be released and that the ones who face charges have fair trials with lawyers provided for them. I will stay here until things get back in order and until the ones who choose to stay are enabled a life of dignity, human rights and freedoms. We'll se later. In Western Slavonia now, everyone has a chance to prove and show what they really want."

USK: United Serb Krajina

The way the single state of the Serbs west of the Drina will be organized is well known. Well informed sources gave VREME a glance at the draft constitution on the highest bodies of authority in the USK (the constitution is due to be adopted on May 31 at a joint session of the RS and RSK parliaments).

The new state would be "the national state of the Serb people based on equality for all citizens in it". The state territory of the USK "cannot be given away or separated", its borders will be inviolable and any an exchange or diminishing of the USK territory would require the agreement of the national assembly.

The power in the USK is to be shared out among the legislative (national assembly), executive (the president, government and ministers) and judiciary. Parliament, the president and government would control each other.

The assembly will also pass laws, a budget and decide on changes in the state borders and on "war and peace" and is charged with "electing and replacing the president of the republic" and "electing and replacing the prime minister and government minister".

On the other hand, the USK president has the power to "pass laws by decree" and "dissolve parliament at the suggestion of the government" as well as "imposing a state of emergency and state of war" and "heading the armed forces in case of war".

The government handles home and foreign affairs, declares states of war, suggests dissolving parliament and in case of war can pass laws when parliament is unable to do so.

It's important to say that if parliament ousts the president his job is temporarily filled by the parliament speaker.

The greatest limits are placed on the powers of the supreme commander who only commands the army in peace.

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