Feral's exclusive - statements of witnesses of mass executions in Gospic
What Are You Waiting For? Shoot!
A family photograph of Mira and Duro Kalanj with the eldest of their two sons)
Participants of the so-called deadly meeting testified that the meeting concluded in the forest at Zitnica plantation. Civilians, who were off-loaded from trucks there, were mostly quiet. Only one woman asked: "You won't kill us, will you?" Then she started to scream. One witness claims that Mirko Norac took her to the side, to the darkness, from where a shot rang out a bit later. Norac then came back and shouted: "What are you waiting for? Shoot!"
by Zoran DASKALOVIC
Feral Tribune, Split, Croatia, February 17, 2001
When almost four years ago Feral's reporters examined and filmed eight graves hidden in the forest, some fifteen kilometers from Gospic in the Zitnica plantation area, they did not even guess that they were standing at the scene of the conclusion of the so-called deadly meeting of the Gospic Crisis Headquarters, where the decision regarding the liquidation of Serb civilians was made. Then, the reporters were taken to the graves along the Smiljan road by Milan Levar's best man Tomislav Oreskovic, at that time still an active policeman.
Those eight mass graves were discovered in 1993, but the bodies of the victims had already been removed from them and moved to another location. Only a personal identification card of one of the missing Serb women from Karlobag was found in one of the graves, while two mismatched pairs of male shoes and fragments of human finger bones were found in another grave. We found a piece of fabric on top of one of the graves, which, emptied of the bodies, had subsided. This piece of fabric probably came from the clothing of one of the persons who were buried there. Judging by the two mismatched pairs of male shoes that were found in one of the graves, it can be concluded that at least some of the graves contained more than one body. When the graves were found in 1993, they were video taped and the videotape was hidden at a safe spot.
In the investigation of the liquidations in Gospic conducted by the county court in Rijeka, some participants of the deadly meeting of the Crisis Headquarters, held on October 16, 1991 at about 8:30 pm, testified that the meeting actually concluded at Zitnica plantation, in the newly planted pine and birch forest.
Testimonies slightly differ from each other, based on different details recalled by different witnesses, and based on the readiness of different witnesses to describe what different individuals said and did during that first night of liquidation of ethnic Serb civilians from Gospic. However, pretty much all of them agree that the meeting was chaired by Tihomir Oreskovic, as was usually done whenever the president of the Crisis Headquarters, Ante Karic was not present, while Mirko Norac informed the participants that all of them were expected to participate that night in a liquidation of Serb civilians.
Besides Oreskovic and Norac, the participants of the deadly meeting were also, according to the testimonies, police chief Ivan Dasovic his deputy Ivan Rukavina, SZUP secret service chief Mirko Kasumovic, former police chief Zeljko Bolf, prison coordinator Ivica Markovic, artillery commander Sinisa Glusac, and medic Kreso Tomljenovic.
Ivan Dasovic and Ivan Rukavina reacted to Norac's statement, asking what that was about and asserting that that was a crime. Allegedly, Dasovic even left the room where the meeting was held, but he came back with Tihomir Oreskovic, who went after him. However, Norac decisively cut their resistance by the claim that that must be done because the order had allegedly come from the top state leadership.
Witnesses claim that they concluded from the whole thing that that was some sort of a loyalty tests whose purpose was to check how far they were ready to go in the defense of Croathood and in expressing their patriotism. Finally, realizing that they had no choice if they were not prepared to endanger their own lives, all participants of the meeting got in several cars and drove along the Smiljan road towards Pazariste.
Witnesses who cooperated with the investigation almost identically describe how the cars turned off the paved road on to a forest path and how an hour before midnight they ended up in the forest at Zitnica plantations, at the spot visited six years later by Feral's reporters in their search for the evidence of crimes committed in Gospic. When the cars stopped, and participants of the meeting started to get out, surrounded by forest and darkness, a military truck arrived with uniformed escorts, most likely military policemen. Because of darkness and light coming from flashlights and car lights it was difficult to recognize them. About ten civilians were taken off the truck. Most of them were elderly women. The civilians were mostly silent, except for one woman who first asked "you're not going to kill us, are you?" and then started to scream while they were being taken away from the trucks and the road, deeper in the forest.
Nikola Ivanisevic Case
One of the witnesses claims that then Mirko Norac took the woman away to the darkness and soon afterwards a shot rang out from that direction. Norac then came back and shouted: "What are you waiting for? Shoot!" Then they shot from all sides at the group of civilians, all of whom were killed in the following thirty seconds. The participants of the deadly meeting shot from their handguns, while the military policemen shot from machine guns. All witnesses who cooperated with the Rijeka investigation claim that they did not shoot at the people, apart from one who refused to answer that question, using his right not to incriminate himself in the investigation.
Witnesses also claim that Oreskovic, who stood in the dark behind them, inspected weapons of some of them, to check whether they did shoot or not. However, everyone fired, because they were convinced that they would pay dearly otherwise. In that hysterical and wild shooting, one of the military policemen was wounded in the leg and all witnesses agree about that, mostly giving his nickname. One of the witnesses confirmed that he recognized among the murdered Serbs Gospic policeman Nikola Ivanisevic by his appearance and silhouette.Ivanisevic was picked up the previous day in front of the Gospic hospital by the military police while he was saying goodbye to his sister, whom he had visited at the hospital where she worked as a nurse.
Four years ago Feral published the story of Ivanisevic's wife, who ended up as a refugee at the very beginning of the war with two small children, on the island of Rab. She related for our magazine what she had done and where she had inquired in order to find out anything about her husband's fate. Ivanisevic declared loyalty to the new authorities and stayed at work in Gospic during the war. According to the statement of the mentioned witness, Ivanisevic's wife could finally, ten years later, find out the fate of her husband, after the conclusion of the Rijeka investigation, especially if the investigation finds out who removed (and where) the bodies of murdered civilians from the eight graves at Zitnicke plantations. By the way, in one of our last contacts, Milan Levar told us that the graves had been bulldozed in the meantime in order to remove evidence of the crime.
It is indeed possible that those bodies will be found elsewhere, as it happened with the bodies of a group of Serb civilians who were liquidated at roughly the same time in Lipova Glavica near Perusic. Eyewitnesses also talked about that execution in the Rijeka investigation. This was first done by soldiers, selected by the commander of the barracks in Perusic Stjepan Grandic for an execution squad that killed twenty four Serbs from Gospic who had previously been held in captivity at the barracks.
Some of the soldiers testified that on a day in October 1991 commander Grandic ordered them to prepare a former ammunition dump for accommodation of a group of Serb civilians who were to be exchanged for captured Croat soldiers and civilians. In thereby prepared space, military policemen from Gospic, led by Milan Miki Karic over two nights, on three occasions, according to the witnesses, brought about twenty Serb civilians. Witnesses claim that the captives were mostly elderly Serb women. However, one of them was a mother with a fifteen-year-old daughter.
Line Up Of Victims
One of the witnesses told the investigators that while he walked next to the improvised jail he heard one of the women saying "look, here is my pupil and he does not recognize me anymore". Since he had already passed the jail he did not react, but on the way back he approached the prisoners and recognized among them his chemistry high school teacher Radmila Stanic. In a brief conversation she allegedly told him that she was not afraid of an exchange, and even that supposedly if she were in his position she would not help him to escape. Of course it hadn't occurred to him [to help the prisoners escape] as the commander had told them that these Serbs were suspected collaborators and traitors.
The same witness told that he interrogated the married couple Kalanj, deputy district prosecutor Djordje and his wife Mira. During the interrogation Djordje Kalanj allegedly requested not to be exchanged, because he expected that he would be maltreated and punished by the Serb side for staying in Gospic at his job. However, after that long night in which Serbs from Gospic were brought to the barracks in Perusic, when some of the soldiers returned that morning, at about 7:30 am, from their positions, commander Grandic selected about ten of them and ordered them to board the bus that was waiting in front of the barracks. At the same time, about ten military policemen, mostly wearing black woolen balaclavas, loaded 24 Serb prisoners on a truck.
The convoy consisting of the truck and the bus, led by a jeep, headed for Lipova Glavica, for the purported exchange of prisoners. All soldiers, witnesses, describe the denouement almost identically. Namely, when they got off the bus, commander Grandic lined them up and soon afterwards ordered them to shoot together with masked military policemen who, again led by Milan Miki Karic in the meantime forced Serb prisoners off the truck. Everything was over quickly and ten soldiers from Perusic returned to the barracks in the same bus.
Lipova Glavica Massacre
In the investigation, Stjepan Grandic, after ending up in custody as a suspect after the testimony of his soldiers, mostly confirmed their claims. The only difference was that he claimed that he hadn't ordered them to shoot, but that one of the present military policemen did that instead. Unlike his soldiers, Grandic told the investigators what preceded the execution at Lipova Glavica.
Namely, he related how his commander Mirko Norac in presence of Milan Canic Bica, Milan Miki Karic, and Davor or Branko Skaro, one of the brothers who was also a member of the command at the time, ordered him to prepare a room for the accommodation of Serbs who were to be arrested in Gospic and nearby villages and then executed at Lipova Glavica in revenge for the murder of seven members of the Hecimovic and Pocrnic families that had taken place in the same area. After Grandic resisted, Norac replied that that was the order of Tihomir Oreskovic that must be carried out, because Oreskovic believed that that execution was the best way to protect his father who is also from the same area.
That detail of Grandic's testimony is especially interesting, because four years ago Tomislav Oreskovic told Feral's reporters that as a police investigator he conducted the investigation at the spot of the murder of seven members of the families Pocrnic and Hecimovic. The investigation officially concluded that Chetnik saboteurs had probably snuck through the Croat lines and killed seven harmless elderly persons. However, Tomislav Oreskovic and his colleagues found that assumption rather suspicious, because they found it rather difficult to believe that Chetnik saboteurs would have passed through the positions of the Croat forces without being spotted by anyone and that on the way back they would not attack anyone of the Croat soldiers at the frontline, but instead they murdered seven elderly persons in a hamlet miles away from the front line and also failed to steal anything from their homes.
Furthermore, a large amount of German Marks was found on one of the victims, in a plastic bag tied around her neck. This money was not touched, which made Tomislav Oreskovic suspect different motives for the murder, especially since after the massacre Tomislav Oreskovic and people around him started demanding that all the Serbs who stayed on the Croat side be registered and controlled. They even demanded that all suspicious Serbs be killed in revenge for the murder of Croat civilians. After the murder of Croat civilians in Siroka Glavica, this demand was accepted and that's how the reprisals started.
Stjepan Grandic confirmed in the Rijeka investigation that based on orders received from Mirko Norac he participated with a platoon of his soldiers in the execution of 24 Serbs at Lipova Glavica, and that he was told that the military policemen who stayed at the spot of the execution after he and his soldiers returned to the barracks poured gasoline over the bodies, burned the remains and covered them with soil in a mass grave. That is why Grandic was very surprised when he heard that bodies of some ten of the murdered civilians were found later at the garbage dump in Petrusic after a dog was seen in the street with the remains of a human hand.
He was totally confused when soon afterwards Serb forces found at Lipova Glavica and dug out all twenty four bodies of executed Serbs from Gospic; namely as far as he knows, the garbage dump in Petrusic could still hide bodies of more than ten persons that were identified at the time of discovery as bodies of Serbs executed at Lipova Glavica, in whose execution he also participated based on orders received from Mirko Norac.
Burden of Crime
After statements given by his soldiers, Grandic had no choice and had to confess his role in the execution of Serb civilians at Lipova Glavica, trying to portray it as simple carrying out of orders issued by Mirko Norac. In that, he tried to explain that Mirko Norac also had no choice and that he also had to carry out orders issued by Tihomir Oreskovic, even though the latter was formally only a secretary of the Crisis Headquarters in Gospic. Namely, Grandic claims that Tihomir Oreskovic, despite his formally administrative duty, was nevertheless the true leader of the authorities in Gospic in that phase of the war, because he was the only person who had authority in all segments of life, both military and civilian, and above all control of the military police.
Grandic illustrates his claim that Tihomir Oreskovic was the master of death and life in Gospic with the following story. Apparently on one occasion Oreskovic told Grandic that it was necessary to apply more pressure on Serbs in Perusic; when Grandic objected,Oreskovic pushed the barrel of his gun into Grandic's mouth and told him that his orders were not to be discussed but simply carried out. From that moment on Grandic obeyed Oreskovic's orders, and he was convinced that Norac had to do the same.
And thus the book of Gospic crimes was written in the Rijeka investigation to the point when about ten participants in the execution of two groups of Serb civilians confessed and accused Tihomir Oreskovic and Mirko Norac as organizers and instigators of the executions; a handful claims that Norac led the execution near Pazariste.
If Mirko Norac was aware of the evidence used to justify his inclusion in the investigation by judge Sajonara Culina, then her order that he be taken into custody, and there are indication that he indeed was aware of a lot of that, then his escape and hiding is probably the last attempt to hide behind his wartime accomplishments. He is also probably hoping that under the pressure from the street and for the sake of peace at home, witnesses and the judiciary may be forced to ignore all the statements given in the Rijeka investigation and thereby acquit Norac of responsibility for crimes.
However, his problem is that in that case only the direct executors will have to be charged and they, after confessing that they participated in the executions, must chose between trying to prove that they did participate in the executions following Oreskovic's and Norac'sorders or accept all the responsibility for the crimes. While during the last ten years it seemed that no one would be punished for the crimes, they kept quiet and hid the evidence. However, the Rijeka investigation proves that they are not prepared to bear a part of the burden of crime that belongs to others, even if those others are Mirko Norac.
Translated on December 18, 2001
used without permission, for "fair use" only
Death of a man who knew too much
Dnevni List (Germany)
Serbs were attacked first. Yugoslavia was attacked and not Croatia. Susak, Glavas and Vice Vukojevic attacked Borovo Selo to provoke a war", says Boljkovac in an exclusive interview for "Dnevni List, Vesti" which is intended for Serb readers living in Germany