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Lovas massacre

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Lovas massacre

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Lovas
Lovas on the map of Croatia, 1991/1992. Serbian-held territories are highlighted in red.

Lovas massacre (Croatian: Masakr u Lovasu) were the killings of Croat detainees in the villages of Lovas and neighbouring Opatovac in eastern Slavonia, Croatia. The civilians were killed by Croatian Serb paramilitary forces, local government officials and members of the JNA[1] during the Croatian War of Independence in the period from 10 October 1991 to the end of that year.[2]

According to the local Croatian authorities, 75 civilians were murdered.[3] A Serbian Special Court raised charges against war crimes suspects, citing 70 civilian victims.[4]

Background

Lovas and Opatovac are two villages located in eastern Slavonia. In 1991, Lovas had a population of 1,681, mostly Croats (85.7%), with some Serbs (7.9%) and others (6.4%). Opatovac was populated by 550 people, of which there were 43.4% Croats, 26.2% Serbs, 21.1% Magyars, and 9.5% others.

In 1990 and 1991, ethnic Serbs in Croatia regions of Krajina and Slavonia incited an armed revolt against the newly elected Croatian government. In mid-1991, the Serbs were openly supported by the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA).[5]

As the Army planned a major offensive in Croatia launched from the direction of Serbia, it first targeted the city of Vukovar on the Danube River, northwest of Lovas. The resulting Battle of Vukovar featured some of the most brutal and important fighting of the war.

Occupation of the villages and the first killings

Early on 10 October, the village of Lovas was targeted by an artillery bombardment during which one person was killed. Later in the day, Serb paramilitary and JNA forces moved into the village, occupying it. During the occupation, they killed another twelve civilians. Opatovac was captured on 14 October. Over the next three days, three more people were killed. According to a Belgrade Court, which convicted 14 men for the massacre, 22 people were killed in the attack on the village.[4]

Along with the JNA, the village was occupied by several paramilitary formations, including "White Eagles" and "Dušan Silni" units, which were responsible for several other massacres in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina

In Lovas, 261 houses were completely destroyed, and all others were damaged, whereas in the smaller Opatovac, 15 homes were destroyed and about fifty others were damaged. Most of the damage was caused by artillery bombardment prior to the occupation, while some was caused afterwards. Much of the industrial infrastructure and anything of value was looted and transferred to Serbia.[6]

According to survivors, the ethnic-Croat villagers were abused, mistreated and tortured since the beginning. They were made to wear white ribbons on their arms marking them as Croats..[7] The Serbs then turned a local library into an improvised jail. There, the Croat population was mistreated – men and women were arrested and subsequently beaten and molested with any and all instruments at their captors' disposal – from crowbars and knives to electrodes.[3][6]

Rape and torture was a regular occurrence to those Croats who remained, who were also forced to wear white armbands as a sign of racial recognition.[6]

Three Roman Catholic Churches in both villages were devastated. One of the two in Lovas – Holy Mary's Church – was levelled to the ground, while the local graveyard was desecrated. At the same time, three houses in the village's center were destroyed and a Serb Orthodox church created in their places.[3] The local graveyard was later used as a mass grave where 68 of those killed in the massacre were buried. The grave was 25 meters long and one meter wide and the dead were thrown in it one on top of another.

Minefield massacre

On 18 October 1991 the worst atrocity was committed when two local Serbs, six paramilitaries and a platoon of JNA reservists forced a group of 51 civilians to walk into a minefield (set up by the Serbs prior to the villages' capture) in order to "clear it". One civilian was shot because he was unable to walk and the others were then forced to join hands and walk into the minefield.

As the first mines exploded, Serbs started to shoot at the survivors. Then, a JNA officer came from up the road and stopped further killings. Of those that were forced into the minefield, 21 were killed and another 14 wounded.[3][8] A further nine people were killed in Lovas and one in Opatovac on that same day, in unrelated killings. According to the Belgrade's Special Court, 22 people were killed during this event.[4]

Later killings

Between 24 October and 23 December, six more people were killed in Lovas.[3]

At the end of the year, a ceasefire was signed and both sides agreed for the arrival of United Nations UNPROFOR peacekeepers who were mandated to protect the local population from harm. Lovas was part of UNPROFOR's Sector East. Despite the UNPROFOR mandate, during 1993, three sisters were killed in a violent attack.[3]

Apart from those listed, another 29 villagers were killed or disappeared during the Serbian occupation, with the exact details of their deaths mostly unknown.[3]

Aftermath

In total, 75 civilians were killed in Lovas and Opatovac during the occupation, of whom 12 were women. Four of those killed were younger than 20, including one 18-year old. 32 of the victims were over 50 years old.[3] The village suffered more casualties as eleven of the locals were killed fighting with the Croatian Army, seven of which were executed as prisoners of war in the Vukovar massacre and buried at the Ovčara mass graves.


A total of 1,661 people became refugees due to the village's occupation, of which 1,341 were from Lovas and 320 from Opatovac. Some locals were sent to Serbia, but were later returned as a part of a prisoner exchange.[3]

Following the Erdut Agreement, the area was to be peacefully reintegrated into Croatia starting in 1995. In June and July 1997, the mass grave at the cemetery was exhumed, as well as other assorted graves around the village holding another 10 bodies. These people were officially buried properly on 21 March 1998.

As a result of the war, a total of 85 villagers of Lovas lost their lives and two are still listed as missing. In Opatovac, two people were killed, and one is missing.[9]

After the war ended and the area was returned to Croatian control, almost two thirds of the Serbs fled, reducing their number to 106 in the 2001 census. The number of Magyars was also reduced by almost one half (77), and there were also 335 fewer Croats in the municipality.[10]

Later events

The ICTY Tribunal at the Hague added the massacre in Lovas as one of the charges against Serbian president Slobodan Milošević[8] and several survivors testified against him. Goran Hadžić was also indicted.[11]

On 18 October 1991, members of the JNA, the TO of the SAO SBWS, and Dušan Silni volunteer unit forced fifty Croat civilians, who had been detained for forced labour in the Zadruga building in Lovas, to march into a minefield on the outskirts of the village of Lovas, located approximately 20 kilometers south-west of the town of Vukovar. On the way to the minefield, one detainee was shot dead by these Serb forces. Upon reaching the minefield, the detainees were forced to enter the minefield and sweep their feet in front of them to clear the field of mines. At least one mine exploded, and the Serb forces opened fire on the detainees. Twenty-one detainees were killed either through mine explosions or gunfire[11]

— The ICTY in its indictment against Goran Hadžić

On 16 September 2003, a Croatian Regional Court raised charges for the Lovas crimes against Ljuban Devetak (declared as "chief commander" of occupied Lovas), Milan Devčić (declared as "police chief" of occupied Lovas) and 16 other people, charging them with indiscriminate killings, abuse, rape and other crimes.[12] Only one of the accused has been arrested, while the others were tried in absentia.

In May 2007, Serb authorities arrested several people related to the killings, who were among those tried in absentia. The Serbian War Crimes prosecutor later confirmed an ongoing investigation, in cooperation with Croatian authorities, against 12 former Serb paramilitary members for their involvement in the massacre.[13]

In November 2007, the Belgrade Special Court raised charges against 14 people in relation to the Lovas massacre. The accused are former members of the: JNA (4 people), paramilitary unit "Dušan Silni" (6 accused), as well as local territorial defence forces (4 people). The accused are: Ljuban Devetak, Milan Devčić, Milan Radojčić, Željko Krnjajić, Miodrag Dimitrijević, Drinko Pajic, Radovan Vlajković, Radisav Josipović, Jovan Dimitrijević, Saša Stojanović, Dragan Bačić, Zoran Kosijer, Petronije Stevanović and Aleksandar Nikolaidis. The charges concerned 70 civilian deaths.[4][14][15] The trial began in April 2008.

See also

  • List of massacres in Croatia

References

Template:Croatian War of Independence

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