I recently broached the subject of Vukovar, which many a Croatian detractor of mine insisted I write about, claiming there was a brutal, unprovoked massacre of innocent Croatian civilians by the Yugoslav Army. My original post from a few weeks ago started to clear that nonsense up, but below are details from two reports, which help round out the picture:

Serbs, Croatians level new charges of war-time massacres
Chicago Tribune, Thursday, November 21, 1991

…Once again Wednesday, hundreds of refugees, both Serbs and Croatians, came up from their cellars where they had survived the raging battles.

The army then evacuated them from the city. More than 5,000 refugees have left so far, out of an estimated 14,000 trapped there during the siege.

Belgrade television reported that 1,700 Croatian guardsmen and police have surrendered to the army.

The Serbian-controlled television gave a report by a local photographer who said army soldiers told him Croatian soldiers slaughtered 41 children between the ages of 5 and 7 in a school in Borovo Naselje.

Goran Mikic, a free-lance photographer who supplies photographs to Reuters, told a television interviewer he saw the bodies Tuesday afer they were brought from the building, but he was not allowed to photograph them.

Mikic said the children’s throats had been cut and they were found in the cellar of the school after Croatian national guardsmen retreated over the weekend.

In a separate incident, a Serbian volunteer in the army told journalists that he saw comrades kill up to 80 Croatian fighters after Vukovar’s capture. teh volunteer, who refused to be identified, said they included men trying to surrender.

The army officially denies it executes prisoners, but Serb fighters outside the military freely admit that summary executions are carried out.

One Yugoslav captain claimed soldiers captured a Croatian who had a necklace made from the fingers of slain children and executed the man on the spot. Another army’s unit clearing a house found a string hanging between two lamps with assorted human ears hanging from it, he alleged.

Capt. Stanko Zivkovic, an army spokesman examining hte corpse-strewn ruins of Borovo Naselje, showed reporters teeth with gold fillings and caps found in the home of a man he called “a Croatian extremist.”

He said they were extracted from the dead with a knife.

“Is this fanaticism or are they defending something?” he asked. “When you defend your country, you defend it with your heart and by brave fighting — not by doing these animal atrocities to civilians.”

The following report was written by Chuck Sudetic, an American of Croatian descent who helped Carla del Ponte investigate the story of the Serbs and other undesirables who were kidnapped and killed for their organs by Albanians, including U.S. pal and “prime minister” Hashim Thaci:

Evidence in Massacre Points to Croats
New York Times INTERNATIONAL, Saturday, January 25, 1992

By Chuck Sudetic, Special to the New York Times

DEBELO BRDO, Croatia, Jan. 23 — In this remote, snow-covered hamlet under the control of Serbs, local militiamen and a team of Yugoslav Army pathologists have collected hard evidence of a mass killing by Croat extremists of Serb civilians from the town of Gospic.

Local Serbs patrolling a no man’s land near the village of Siroka Kula on Dec. 25 happened on the charred bodies of 15 men and 9 women, Col. Milan Milivojevic, the local Yugoslav Army commander, said today.

“The bodies were in an exposed area on the front line,” the colonel said.

“We have identified 12 of them as Serbs who were taken from their homes in the town of Gospic on Oct. 16, 17 and 18,” said Dr. Zoran Stankovic, a pathologist based in Belgrade who heads the army’s investigation of the remains.

Serbs Often Accused

The discovery of the bodies underscores the vengeful brutality of the fighting, which has now abated, in which half of the estimated 10,000 dead have been civilians. For much of the conflict it has been the Serb side that has been condemned in reports by the foreign press and international organizations for excesses and indiscipline involving the killing of civilians by irregular troops and Yugoslav Army reservists.

A report released today by Helsinki Watch, a human rights organization, describes and documents 14 incidents in which Serbian irregular forces killed at least 200 Croatian civilians or unarmed combatants, including 43 people in the village of Vocin in mid-December.

Serbs have for months complained that their civilians, too, have been the victims of violence, but until now Serb political leaders and army officials have provided no real evidence of specific instances.

“Cowards did this,” said Dr. Stankovic, flicking through a stack of hundreds of color photographs of the tagged and numbered bodies, many of which were in pieces. “This war has given an opportunity to the primitives, the people prone to violence.”

The photos clearly show that some of the victims died of gunshot wounds to the chest or back of the head. Several victims had their skulls smashed with blunt instruments, Dr. Stankovic said.

“This was Judge Branko Stulic,” said the doctor, offering a photo of the body tagged S-2. “He has a knife wound in the neck.”

Bodies Were Burned

Other victims were well known to the Gospic community, and included a prosecutor, a pension-fund lawyer, a travel agent and a teacher, he said.

The killers set the mound of bodies ablaze, apparently with gasoline or some other flammable liquid, the doctor said.

“The bodies lay in the open for almost two months,” said Colonel Milivojevic. “The Croats who did this left the bodies suspiciously close to the front line, as if they wanted to use this as proof of a Serb atrocity against Croats.”

Serbs say that as many as 150 people have disappeared from Gospic and nearby villages since fighting began in the area five months ago. Many were reportedly abducted by masked Croatian gunmen.

A Zagreb magazine this week printed a list of 61 people who had disappeared from Gospic: 18 were listed as killed. The Croatian authorities have reported no progress in their investigation of the Gospic disappearances despite numerous requests from relatives of the missing persons and foreign diplomats.

No More Hope

For Milica Smiljanic, a 42-year-old half-Serb and half-Croat bookkeeper from Gospic, the macabre discovery has ended three months of hoping that her husband, a Serb lawyer, would return after being taken away by five Croat gunmen at 11:30 P.M. on Oct. 16.

“My husband, Stanko, is No. 5,” said Mrs. Smiljanic, who returned to Debelo Brdo today to arrange for a funeral.

Her brother-in-law, Milan, who was mentally disabled, is among the missing.

“I barely recognized Stanko,” she said, pulling her husband’s blackened gold wedding ring from a plastic bag.

“Look, my name is engraved inside the band,” she said. “That’s how I knew it was him.”

“Stanko was no danger to anyone,” she said. “He collected stamps and played chess. He had a heart condition and was in no shape to be in any kind of army.”

Mrs. Smiljanic witnessed the abduction and she has since identified one of the men who abducted her husband as a local Croat.

“There were five of them; four wore green masks,” she said, describing how the gunmen took away six people, including two women, from a basement in which she and her family had taken shelter with a dozen other people during the fighting for Gospic. “You could only see their eyes. The one who didn’t wear a mask was blond-haired and wearing white-framed glasses.”

“I was crying, hysterical,” she said. “I pleaded with them to leave my husband. But the men tied him up and led him away. Then they told us to go down into the basement and not to say anything to anyone.”

“None of them ever came back,” she said, adding that she spent the next few weeks huddled with neighbors in a basement in terror thinking that the men who abducted her husband might return for her.

***

And from journalist and author David Martin:

The facts of the massacres would indeed be incredible if they had not been authenticated from so many different sources, including photographis evidence by the Ustashi themselves, as such evidence was one sure way of receiving Pavelic’s approval and elevation to higher rank within the Ustashi militia. In quantity the Ustashi massacres rivaled the worst of the Nazi crimes, and for sheer cruelty they surpassed anything that Himmler ever devised…Numerous reports of entire Serbian communities being locked in their churches and burned alive and reports that the Ustashi were adorning themselves with necklaces made of Serbian eyes were so horrible that one simply cannot blame the civilized Western World for initially disbelieving them.

This may have served as the inspiration for a vignette in Italian author Curzio Malaparte’s novelistic account of WWII, which he’d covered as a correspondent for Corriere della Sera. In his book Kaputt, he writes of visiting the Croatian fuhrer Ante Pavelic in 1942:

“…The Croatian people,” said Ante Pavelic, “wish to be ruled with goodness and justice. And I am here to provide them.”

While he spoke, I gazed at a wicker basket on the Poglavnik’s [fuhrer’s] desk. The lid was slightly raised and the basket seemed to be filled with mussels, or shelled oysters.

Ante looked at me and winked, “Would you like a nice oyster stew?”

“Are they Dalmatian oysters?” I asked.

Ante Pavelic removed the lid from the basket and revealed the mussels, that slimy and jelly-like mass, and he said smiling, “It is a present from my loyal Ustashi…Forty pounds of human eyes.”

It is known that Ustasha soldiers would gouge out and collect Serbian eyes as gifts for Pavelic, so he no doubt had such a collection. But it is the sort of thing he would have kept from view of a visiting foreigner, especially an Italian correspondent. While we don’t know if this meeting did or didn’t take place, we don’t have to guess what happened to this Serbian peasant woman: