July 25, 2005

Croatia orders new probe into 1991 Serb murders

ZAGREB (Reuters) - Croatia has ordered an investigation
into murders of Serb civilians in the eastern town of Osijek at
the outset of the Serb rebellion in 1991, state television
reported on Monday. It said new Interior Minister Ivica Kirin,
who took office earlier this month, had appointed Vladimir
Faber, an experienced officer from Zagreb, as the new Osijek
police chief.

He also assigned five special investigators to the case,
state TV said, in a rare sign of determination to deal with
atrocities Croats committed against Serbs -- usually seen as
the villains in Zagreb's 1991-95 war of independence. Dealing
with wartime atrocities and full cooperation with the U.N. war
crimes tribunal in The Hague are among the key issues for
advancing Croatia's European Union membership bid. More than 30
Serb civilians disappeared in Osijek, a former frontline town
regularly shelled by Serb rebels during the war, in the autumn
of 1991.

Most of them were executed and their bodies dumped in the
Drava river. A brief police probe at the time did not result in
any indictments.

An alleged witness to the killings told independent weekly
Feral Tribune this month he had seen Croat paramilitaries shoot
a prisoner in the back of his head in Osijek. He said soldiers
forced another Serb to drink acid from a car battery. State
prosecutors said they were interviewing potential witnesses and
would decide whether to press charges after the police complete
their own probe.

The former Yugoslav republic sentenced a Croat army general
to 12 years in prison in 2003, in the first landmark case for
crimes against Serbs.

Previous nationalist authorities, in power from 1990 to
2000, did little to investigate such crimes or put perpetrators
on trial.