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Croatia Retries Soldiers For War Crimes Against Serbs

Serb refugees fleeing Croatia in 1995

Serb refugees fleeing Croatia in 1995

A Croatian court has begun a retrial of two former soldiers accused in the 1991 wartime killing of seven Croatian Serb civilians, RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports.

The crime took place in the eastern town of Novska at the height of the war against Croatian Serb rebels who had captured one-third of Croatia with the help of Belgrade and the former Yugoslav National Army (JNA).

A court in Novska is trying the two former members of the Croatian army's elite 1-Guard Tigers Brigade, one of them in absentia.

The victims were killed in their homes and some of them were tortured or mutilated.

Novska was held by the Croatian army but was close to the frontline, and the killings were one of several cases of crimes against civilians seemingly committed out of vengeance. Four other Croatian Serb civilians were killed in or around Novska during the same period.

The two defendants were tried by a military court for the killings in 1992, but at that time they were not classified as war crimes. That process was halted after a Croatian presidential pardon for the suspects.

Croatian courts have in recent years prosecuted several cases against Serb civilians for actions during the 1991-95 "Homeland War."

But human rights activists accused the courts and authorities of making a half-hearted effort, as none of the prosecutions has ever been completed.

Zoran Pusic of the Citizens Committee for Human Rights said he is skeptical about the outcome of the current trial.

"Two former Tigers who had been present [at the time of the killings] testified today but they said they were outside the house," said Zoran Pusic of the Citizens Committee for Human Rights. "As usual in cases like this one, there is 'total amnesia.' They heard nothing and saw nothing, although there must have been shooting."

Several high-ranking Croatian army officers are currently on trial at the UN war crimes court at The Hague for crimes committed against Croatian Serb civilians during the August 1995 "Operation Storm," when Croatia recaptured Serb-held territory.

Another high-ranking Croatian official was sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence for the killing of Serb civilians early in the war.