Serbia Restarts Lovas War Crimes Trial from Beginning
A Serbian court restarted the trial for the killing of 70 Croatian civilians in the village of Lovas in 1991 on a technicality because the war crimes prosecutor’s office did not have a chief prosecutor for a year-and-a-half.
Belgrade Higher Court decided on Thursday to restart the Lovas trial because of previous decisions by an appeals court, ruling that the deputy war crime prosecutors did not have the right to act on behalf of the prosecutor’s office while the chief prosecutor’s seat was vacant.
The position of chief war crimes prosecutor was vacant from December 2015, when the previous incumbent’s term expired, until May 2017 when a new one was elected.
During that time, the deputy prosecutors acted on behalf of the prosecutor’s office in trials, but the appeals court said that this practice was unlawful.
Despite numerous hearings being delayed, defendants in the Lovas trial were ready to make their closing statements, and were caught off guard by the trial’s restart.
Ten former members of the police, Serbian territorial defence forces, the Yugoslav People’s Army and the Dusan Silni (Dusan the Great) paramilitary unit are accused of committing war crimes against civilians and of killing 70 of them in the Croatian village of Lovas in October 1991.
The indictment says Serbian forces captured Lovas on October 10 that year, after which the beatings and torture of civilians started.
On October 17, the forces allegedly rounded up around 70 men from Lovas, aged 18 to 65, detained them and tortured some of them.
The next day, defendants Radovan Vlajkovic and Radisav Josipovic, who were military officials with Serbian territorial defence forces, were ordered to use the civilians as a human shield in a minefield, according to the indictment.
Vlajkovic and Josipovic are said to have chosen around 50 civilians and told them to walk towards a nearby field to check where the mines were.
When they got there, members of the Dusan Silni paramilitary unit told the civilians to walk in a line and to check with their feet where the mines were; Vlajkovic and Josipovic allegedly participated in this.
When one man fell over, a mine exploded, and at the same time a number of soldiers started shooting at the Croatians, 19 of whom were killed.
The prosecution said that 20 civilians were killed on October 10, when the village was captured, while the other victims were killed at other times.
All the former fighters were convicted in 2012, but Serbia’s appeals court annulled the verdict and sent the case for retrial in 2014.
Four of those who were initially convicted – Ljuban Devetak, Dragan Bacic, Aleksandar Nikolaidis and Milan Radojcic – have since died.
Serbia’s deputy war crimes prosecutor asked in March 2017 for the ten defendants to be jailed for a total of 83 years.