Croatian Court Sentences Serb Paramilitary Commander For War Crimes

Dragan Vasiljkovic (R)
Photo: AP

Croatian court in the city of Split has sentenced Tuesday 26 September the former Serb paramilitary commander and Australian citizen, Dragan Vasiljkovic, a.k.a. Captain Dragan, a.k.a. Daniel Snedded, to 15 years in prison for war crimes committed in Croatia during Serb aggression against Croatia in the 1990s.

The sentence is pathetic. If true justice were handed out then the man would spend the rest of his life in prison.

The municipal court in the coastal town of Split said Tuesday found that the rebel Serb paramilitary commander Dragan Vasiljkovic had during the 1991-95 Croatian Homeland war, when Serbs took up arms against Croatia’s secession from communist Yugoslavia, killed, tortured and beaten civilians and Croatian police prisoners in a fortress in Knin prison in 1991 and that his attack that same year on a series of villages near Glina had resulted in the deaths of civilians.

The 63-year-old Vasiljkovic, who was born in Serbia, went to Australia at the age of 15 but returned to the former Yugoslavia to train Serb rebels in 1991, when Serbs took up arms against Croatia’s secession from Yugoslavia.

He spent nine years in detention in Sydney fighting extradition, claiming he would not receive a fair trial after The Australian had exposed his war crimes in a 2005 article. Vasiljkovic was discovered by Australian Federal Police while working on a yacht at the Harwood Slipway in the Clarence Valley (state of New South Wales, Australia) after 43 days on the run. He was then extradited from Australia in July 2015, after fighting a 10-year legal battle against being handed over to Croatia’s judiciary.

He became Australia’s first extradited war crimes suspect.

While praised in Serbia and among Serbs worldwide as disciplined soldier with no mercy, in Croatia he was known as a smug self-promoting commander of a special forces unit, the feared Kninjas, that sought to drive out ethnic Croats from the border area known as Krajina (territory covering about 1/3 of Croatia and occupied by Serbs during the war via ethnic cleansing of Croats and other non-Serbs, murder, rape, plunder and destruction).

The three-judge Croatian court panel found Vasiljkovic guilty of two of the three charges, which included torturing and beating imprisoned Croatian police and army troops and commanding a special forces unit involved in the destruction of Croatian villages. He was found responsible for the death of at least two civilians.
About 60 prosecution witnesses were questioned during the trial, including those who said they were tortured by Vasiljkovic.

The court found that Vasiljkovic, as commander of special Serb purposes unit of the paramilitary forces, for the training of special units known as Alpha, acted against and in breach of Geneva Convention.

When Vasiljkovic strode in the historic old fortress town of Knin in the Dalmatian hinterland near the Bosnian border in early 1991 tensions against secessions from former Yugoslavia reached boiling point from Serbia direction, his connections with Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic’s secret police who sat at the apex of the power structure were already well-established.

The deadly assault at Glina in July 1991 was an early bloody chapter in the genocides committed by Serbs in Croatia. The Glina assault is among the war crimes tribunal’s three allegations against Vasiljkovic, who is accused by Croatian prosecutors of commanding troops who tortured and killed prisoners of war; commanding a deadly assault at Glina in 1991; and training paramilitary units that committed war crimes at Bruska near Benkovac in Croatia’s central Dalmatian hinterland in 1993.

When Croatia declared it wanted independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Vasiljkovic adopted the moniker Captain Dragan and was encouraged by Serbian intelligence chiefs Milan Martic (sentenced to 35 years prison in The Hague) and Franko Simatovic (currently on retrial for war crimes in The Hague) to train special forces units in an old scout hall in the village of Golubic from where he often led his own unit on military operations.

Vasiljovic’s lawyer Tomislav Filakovic said in Split: “Captain Dragan didn’t expect such a harsh sentence, this has come as a big surprise.
We don’t believe the prosecution presented substantial evidence to arrive at such a verdict and we will appeal.’’

His lawyers will lodge a request for Vasiljkovic to released immediately because he has served nine years in detention in Australia and a further two years in a jail in Split. Under Croatian law prisoners can be released after serving two-thirds of their original sentence.

Vasiljkovic, who was widely believed during the war to be working for Serbia’s secret service, has claimed innocence throughout the one-year trial, saying the whole process was rigged. The judges ruled that they will take into account the time Vasiljkovic served in detention in Australia and in a Croatian prison, meaning he has three and a half years of his sentence remaining.

As much as Serbia may pursue its denial of direct involvement in the violence and genocide in Croatia (and Bosnia and Herzegovina), which led to the rising of Croatian defence forces against the backdrop of UN arms embargo, strong Yugoslav Peoples’ Army acting for Serbia’s interests, and an impoverished material defence resources Vasiljkovic’s case serves also as a reminder of the horrors Croats went through during the Homeland War. Any lasting reconciliation can only be achieved via truth and justice such as the one seen surfacing in the Split court on Tuesday, even if the sentence is pathetic when compared to the brutality of the crimes. One must not forget that many Serbs known or suspected of war crimes in Croatia had, as part of the deal for peaceful reintegration in Croatia of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium, in 1998, been given amnesty from prosecution for war crimes.  This is something that is most painful for Croats. However, as there is no statute of limitation for war crimes and a revisit to the matter with view to rescinding the amnesty would no doubt serve the needed justice for victims of war crimes. Ina Vukic

 

Comments

  1. So, he gets 15 years,less the 11 years of detention he’s served and Croatia’s 2/3 sentence laws could allow him to walk out of jail tomorrow a free man. In reality he will have spent only 2 years in detention on Croatian soil…..for crimes he has been found guilty of committing against the state and it’s citizens. Not enough, not nearly enough! If this doesn’t emphasize the need for a rehaul of Croatia’s judiciary system and lustration of it’s apparatchiks then I don’t know what would. Wake up Croatians and flex your democratic muscles! Thanks to our branitelji we have a country that is called Croatia! A country that, at least on paper, is called a democracy. Our branitelji fought a war in which was won your right to self-determination, your right to steer your own course, now it is your duty to use that democracy wisely and fully. Only you have the power to change things!

    Za Dom Spremni!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, the sentence is pitifully inadequate and does not come anywhere near reflecting his crimes.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Ace News Desk.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Traversty of justice but something we are coming to accept in today’s world of injustice being the watchword of those that see away of bringing down governments who do not agree with there so called norm ….Leaders are corrupt and followers are corrupted and only those that do not have a price can bring justice to the world today … Sad fact is they are only the few Ina Truth is scarce and Truthful people becoming even scarcier …

    Liked by 1 person

    • So truth – independence from corruption and dependency, self-sufficiency gained through own toils is the ticket to truly fight for justice. Ian…dystopian could describe most of today’s world – sadly

      Liked by 2 people

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