September 01, 1997

Croatia arrests former policemen for war deaths

By Davor Huic

ZAGREB, Croatia (Reuter) - Croatian police arrested a former policeman who told a newspaper he killed 72 people, most of them ethnic Serbs, in the early days of the 1991-95 Serbo-Croat war, state television said Monday.

Miro Bajramovic, a member of a Croatian paramilitary police unit fighting against the Serbs, was arrested in the village of Dodos south of Zagreb only hours after his interview with the independent weekly Feral Tribune came out.

The television said the Zagreb county prosecutor had ordered an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the 1991 killing spree described by Bajramovic in the interview.

He said he had been responsible for the deaths of 86 people and actually killed 72 of them.

It was the first time a member of the Croatian armed forces, who fought against Serbs in a ferocious war in which each side attacked the civilian populations of the other ethnic group, had publicly admitted acts that could be qualified as war crimes.

Bajramovic could not be reached directly by Reuters, but Feral's editor in chief, Viktor Ivanicic, said the newspaper was satisfied he was who he said he was.

He added that Bajramovic had signed all the pages of a statement he gave to the newspaper.

In the interview, Bajramovic revealed details of grisly crimes, including torture and summary execution of prisoners, he committed as a member of a Croatian paramilitary police unit.

Bajramovic, along with some other members of the unit, was imprisoned by the Croatian authorities early in 1992 only to be released some three months later.

No charges were brought against them at the time or later, despite numerous reports in the media alleging misconduct.

But Feral Tribune published some material from a 1992 investigation, in which members of the group talked about killing Serb prisoners in the village of Pakracka Poljana in the early days of the war.

Some 18 ethnic Croats were charged with war crimes by the Hague tribunal, but all of them for alleged acts committed in neighboring Bosnia, not Croatia.

Bajramovic said the unit was responsible for killing nearly 400 people, mostly Serb civilians but also unsympathetic Croats in several locations, including Gospic and Pakracka Poljana.

The unit's first target was the central town of Gospic in September 1991, a few months after the war was sparked when the Serb minority rebelled against Zagreb's declaration of independence from the former Yugoslavia.

Bajramovic said that in less than a month, the group ``liquidated'' between 90 and 110 Serbs in Gospic, and 13 more in a village of Slano ner Dubrovnik.

It was not clear why Bajramovic came forward with his story. He only said he was embittered by the fact that other members of the unit got rich, while he ended up with nothing.


Associated Press

September 2, 1997

Corpses Removed from Bosnia Grave

HRGAR, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) -- Recovery workers descended into a cave Tuesday to carry out corpses -- some with socks and shoes dangling off decaying limbs -- from one of the largest mass graves yet discovered in Bosnia or neighboring Croatia.

Up to 300 bodies, mostly Muslim war victims, were believed buried in a labyrinthine cave near the northwestern Bosnian village of Hrgar. Bosnian officials began exhuming bodies Monday, and by Tuesday had removed 10 corpses. Some remains still had identification cards.

Ervin Lipovic, a 30-year-old alpine climber working for the excavating team, said trash was mixed in with the bodies, and the stench below ground was ``horrible.'' Several barrels of acid also were buried in the cave.

Tens of thousands of people still are listed as missing from the 3 1/2-year Bosnian war. Many are believed to have been slaughtered and dumped into pits.

The U.N. war crimes tribunal has been using evidence gathered from exhumations to build cases against suspects accused of committing atrocities during the Bosnian war and the six-month war in Croatia.

On Monday in Zagreb, Croatia, a former police officer was arrested after telling a magazine he personally killed dozens of civilians during Croatia's 1991 war against rebel Serbs.

In its Monday issue, the weekly Feral Tribune quoted Miro Bajramovic as saying he was ``directly responsible for the death of 86 people,'' among them 72 he killed personally.

He said victims were burned or shocked with electric current sent through nails driven under their fingernails, or through cables shoved up their anuses. Others had salt and vinegar rubbed into deep wounds, he said.

``We mainly didn't allow them to stop bleeding,'' Bajramovic said. He said when people were hooked up to high voltage through iron nails, ``the person disappears. Ashes!''

It was impossible to verify the comments. But the interview in Croatia's most respected independent weekly appeared to substantiate allegations that Bajramovic's unit was involved in some of the many atrocities committed by both sides.

Croatian authorities reacted swiftly, arresting Bajramovic later Monday near Sisak, 25 miles southeast of Zagreb, Croatian state television reported.

The cave near Hrgar in northwestern Bosnia is a moss-filled, 120-foot shaft that splits into several tunnels. Excavators enter the shaft in a large metal basket that slides down a wire connected to an above-ground generator.

Tents and wooden tables have been set up around the shaft, in a patch of forest cleared of trees, for examining the bodies.

``We won't have a real idea of what we are dealing with until all the material is removed,'' said Joseph Cruz, a human rights field worker who is among U.N. officials monitoring the excavation. ``There is no real idea of how far the hole goes down there.''

The exhumation will take at least a month, said Adem Jakupovic, a local judge in the Muslim-Croat federation. An American forensic team was expected to help with the exhumation beginning Wednesday, he said.

Local officials first learned of the possibility of mass graves in the area two months ago during a meeting of Bosnian Serb and Muslim officials trying to trace the missing.

Asked for information on missing people believed to have been held in two Serb camps in western Bosnia in 1992, the Serbs said most were dead. They hinted there might be a mass grave with 65 bodies in the area.

It took two months of searching for the Bosnian government team to find the cave, six miles from the nearest road.

Esad Bajramovic, local head of the state commission for missing persons, said up to 300 bodies were believed to be buried in the cave.