On the night of 28 September 1995, Croatian soldiers entered the village of Varivode and killed nine elderly Serb villagers. The civilians that were killed were Jovan Berić, Marko Berić, Milka Berić, Radivoje Berić, Marija Berić, Dušan Dukić, Jovo Berić, Špiro Berić and Mirko Pokrajac. After the executions occurred, the bodies were buried in a cemetery near the village without the knowledge of the families of the victims
After the massacre, Croatian authorities denied reports of widespread atrocities targeting Serbs and said that they were propaganda. Later, the government blamed the atrocities on uncontrollable elements within the Croatian Army and Croatian police. Christiane Amanpour's report from October 1995 said that the "United Nations believes 12 Serb civilians were massacred." In the first one hundred days following Operation Storm, at least 150 Serb civilians were summarily executed, and many hundreds disappeared as part of a widespread campaign of revenge against Croatia's Serb minority.
The bodies of the killed Serbs were never exhumed, autopsies were never performed and much of the evidence that could have been used against the perpetrators of the crime was disgarded. Despite this, six Croatian soldiers were tried for committing crimes in the village. The soldiers were Ivan Jakovljević, Peri Perković, Neđeljko Mijić, Zlatko Ladović, Ivica Petrić and Nikola Rašić. However, in 2002 they were all released due to the lack of evidence against them
In 2012, the Supreme Court of Croatia ruled that the Republic of Croatia was responsible for the killings, dubbing the massacre an "act of terrorism," and the following year the municipal court in Knin announced that the Government of Croatia must provide compensation to the children of a couple who were murdered.
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Croats Leave Bloody Trail of Serbian Dead
October 09, 1995|TRACY WILKINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER
KNIN, Croatia — They found Sava Babic's body in the back of her broken-down yellow Fiat, her legs and a walking cane protruding from a rear door.
The 82-year-old Serbian woman had been shot in the cheek. She was discovered by the same team of U.N. civilian police officers who had visited her three days earlier and had heard her complaints about Croatian soldiers trying to steal her car. The U.N. officers were bringing food to Babic when they found her.
Babic was one of an estimated 2,500 Serbs who stayed behind in the Krajina region of Croatia after it was recaptured by Croatian forces in an August offensive that sent more than 180,000 Serbs fleeing. Her murder is being described as part of a campaign of harassment and intimidation by Croatian forces against Serbian civilians that continues two months after the offensive ended.
Since Aug 5., officials from the United Nations, United States, Europe and human rights groups have documented widespread looting, robbery, arson and, now, murder in the Krajina. Most of the victims have been elderly Serbs, and many of the perpetrators, say reports and officials, have been Croatian security forces. Thousands of Serbian homes have been ransacked and torched, and more than 100 people killed, long after the combat ceased.
The human rights officials accuse the Croatian government of tolerating the atrocities in a deliberate effort to discourage Serbs from returning, despite a stated policy of welcoming them.
Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, after first denying that abuses were taking place, on Friday acknowledged their existence but insisted that returning Croatian refugees exacting revenge have been responsible. Tudjman, a key U.S. ally, said 24 people had been arrested in connection with 36 killings of Serbs and that seven other murder cases and more than 600 looting incidents are under investigation.
"We have done everything in our power to stop the unlawful acts, and now the courts will do their job," Tudjman said.
Yet even as he spoke, there were signs here in the remote hills of the Krajina that Croatian authorities were trying to cover up evidence of some of the most grisly murders.
The worst incident to come to light has been the Sept. 28 massacre of at least nine elderly Serbian civilians in the small village of Varivode southeast of Knin, the town that served as the Krajina Serbs' capital during the three years they held the Krajina.
The murders have been well documented by U.N. investigators who reached Varivode on Oct. 2, finding pools of blood as well as blood-splattered walls and bullet holes in four homes. Two survivors have reported hearing gunfire on the afternoon of Sept. 28.
"We found the signs of a considerably violent action," said an internal U.N. human rights report. "There were no signs of any military fighting, only of what can be described as cold-blooded killing."
When U.N. officials returned over the weekend, however, they discovered that the blood had been washed or burned away in some places.
In a home where bullet holes and blood splatters had earlier been found on the side of a stove and a wall, someone had moved a chair to hide the evidence. In another home, where a large pool of blood had been found on the patio, someone had covered the site with straw and positioned a bench over it.
On Sunday, Croatian military police staffed a checkpoint at the entrance to the town and denied access to a U.N. team, which was eventually able to enter by a back road, according to a member of the group.
Milan Pokrajac, 74, who heard the Sept. 28 gunfire and is the lone Serb remaining in Varivode, has been placed under police guard, although U.N. investigators are still allowed to talk to him. A witness, Bojanka Milosevic, 42, who has said she hid when she heard the shots, was spirited away by Croatian authorities to an island off the coast. U.N. officials, however, said they have been granted access to her.
The U.N. monitors who first reached Varivode on Oct. 2 also found plastic surgical gloves at several of the bloody sites, indicating that an official investigation had at least been started. But requests thus far for police reports or autopsy reports have been rebuffed, U.N. officials said.
Crosses with the names of the Varivode victims were discovered in the rapidly expanding Serbian cemetery in Knin on Oct. 2, but U.N. investigators have not been able to determine when the victims were buried.
Family members have also complained that they were not informed of their relatives' deaths until after the burials, and at least one relative is demanding an exhumation of the grave site purported to contain her parents, Jovan and Marija Beric.
The dead ranged in age from 65 to 84.
The Serbian cemetery is a veritable work in progress. Approximately 250 new graves have appeared in recent weeks, about half with crosses marked with two N's, for "no name." Huge pits have already been dug, apparently in expectation of more bodies.
Croatia Admits Serb Civilians Were Killed
October 03, 1995| From Associated Press
ZAGREB, Croatia — The Croatian government acknowledged Monday that Serbian civilians were found slain in a village it had recaptured. But it pointedly refrained from blaming its soldiers, accused by the United Nations of atrocities.
A brief Interior Ministry statement said nine elderly Serbs were found killed in the village of Varivode, 125 miles southwest of Zagreb, the capital. U.N. officials said at least seven more Serbs from the village were missing.
A Croatian human rights group said in a report released Sunday that 12 Serbs, all 60 to 85 years old, were slain Thursday in Varivode. The report said that three more Serbs are missing.
The government has been under increasing pressure to react to accounts of atrocities committed by Croatian troops during and after their blitz in early August to retake most of the territory held by Serbian rebels since a 1991 war between the Croats and the Croatian Serbs.
More than 180,000 Serbs fled the Croatian offensive. The United Nations estimates that fewer than 2,500 Serbs remain in the recaptured area, known as the Krajina.
International human rights groups and European Union monitors have cited many cases of murder and intimidation of Serbs and systematic destruction of thousands of houses by Croatian soldiers during and since the offensive.
The United Nations and other groups have charged that such acts were conducted with the tacit sanction of Croatian authorities. Although 400 soldiers have been arrested for looting and arson, the government has insisted that they were random acts and has not acknowledged the slaying of civilians.
Croatian officials said that they first learned about the killings in Varivode on Friday, when a civilian who wanted to visit his relatives in the village found four bodies.
The police later found that the nine civilians had been shot to death, the ministry said in a brief statement, adding only that the case is under investigation.
It did not suggest who was responsible for the killings.