četvrtak, 18. studenoga 2010.

Battle of Vukovar

Information on the heroic battle of Vukovar (August 25 - November 18, 1991), excerpted from English Wikipedia:

The Battle of Vukovar was an 87-day siege of the Croatian city of Vukovar by the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA), supported by various Serbian paramilitary forces, between August–November 1991 during the Croatian War of Independence. It ended with the defeat of the local Croatian National Guard, the destruction of Vukovar, the death of at least 3,000 people as well as ethnic cleansing of at least 20,000 Croats from the city and surroundings.

According to some estimates, Serbian gunners fired up to a million shells into Vukovar.

Vukovar was defended by a force of some 1,800 defenders drawn from the locals, the 204th brigade of the Croatian National Guard (ZNG) and Interior Ministry forces. None of these were trained military formations. Despite their small numbers and poor weaponry, they were far better motivated than their opponents [...]

The attacking force was a mixture of JNA soldiers, conscripts from the Serbian Territorial Defense Forces (Teritorijalna Obrana or TO), Chetniks (Serbian nationalist paramilitaries) and local Serb militiamen. At its largest, it numbered about 50,000 troops. Although it was in theory far stronger than the Croatian forces and was much better equipped, it suffered from often low morale, poor leadership, and constant desertions, which reduced the strength and capability of many units [...]

From August 25, Vukovar was under constant artillery and rocket bombardment. [...] By September 30, the town was almost completely surrounded; all roads in and out of the town were blocked and the only route in was via a track through a perilously exposed cornfield.

During the period of September 14 to 20, JNA launched some of the largest tank and infantry attacks at the city. One of the major tank attacks in this period was started on September 18 from the north on Trpinjska Street; launched by the JNA's 51st Mechanized Brigade's one Mechanized Battalion of about 30 tanks and 30 APCs. When the first tanks reached the Croatian lines, the leading column was ambushed and came under heavy fire from Croatian small arms weapons and rockets, directed from the roofs and basements along the street. The Croatian ambush would typically funnel the Serbian armoured columns into "killing fields", and then the RPG gunners would knock out the first and last tank in the line, thereby trapping the rest of tanks in the middle. Serbian tanks were unable to depress their tank barrels low enough to fire into basements. The column was almost completely wiped out. As a result, an area where the fighting occurred was nicknamed "Tank Graveyard". In total, about one hundred armoured vehicles were destroyed there [...]

From mid-October 1991 to the fall of the city in mid-November, Vukovar was surrounded by JNA and Serbian forces. Its remaining inhabitants – who included some several thousand Serbs – took refuge in communal bomb shelters [...]

A crisis committee was established, operating from a nuclear bunker underneath the municipal hospital. It organised the delivery of food, water and medical supplies, keeping to a minimum the number of civilians on the streets and ensuring that each bomb shelter was guarded and had at least one doctor and nurse assigned to it.

The hospital was kept busy dealing with hundreds of wounded people; in the latter half of September, it had received between sixteen and eighty wounded each day, three quarters of them civilians. Despite the building being clearly marked with the Red Cross symbol it was shelled and bombed along with the rest of the city. On October 4, the Yugoslav Air Force attacked it, destroying its operating theater. One bomb fell through several floors, failed to explode and landed on the foot of a wounded man, who survived.

Despite the attacking forces' numerical superiority and far greater firepower, they were unable to dislodge the Croatian defenders. The JNA's attempts to storm the city were beaten back with heavy losses in manpower and equipment. [...]

Unable to engage the defenders directly, the army instead resorted to intensive long-range artillery bombardments supported by occasional Yugoslav Air Force bombing raids. By the end of October, much of Vukovar had been reduced to ruins. [...] By November 15, the defenders had been reduced to isolated pockets, and they surrendered on November 18. [...]

The fate of those captured at Vukovar, both military and civilians, was grim. Many appear to have been summarily executed by Serbian paramilitaries; journalists visiting the town immediately after its fall reported seeing the streets strewn with bodies in civilian clothes.

The defenders of the northern pocket of Borovo Naselje were unable to escape and most are reported to have been killed. Many of the defenders of Vukovar proper were also killed although some, including the commanders, successfully broke through JNA lines and escaped to government-held territory. Of the non-Serb civilian survivors, most were expelled to government-held territory but around 800 of the men of fighting age (civilians and captured soldiers alike) as well as many other civilians were imprisoned in Serbian prisons and POW camps. Majority from Vukovar ended up in the Sremska Mitrovica camp. Although most were eventually freed in prisoner exchanges, some reportedly died after being tortured.

Many of the Croatians in the Vukovar hospital (around 260 people plus several medical personnel) were taken by JNA and Serb paramilitary forces to the nearby field of Ovčara and executed there (Vukovar massacre). Three JNA officers, Mile Mrkšić, Veselin Šljivančanin and Miroslav Radić were indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on multiple counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws of war. The three indictees were either captured or handed themselves in during 2002 and 2003 and stood trial in October 2005. On September 27, 2007, Mrkšić was sentenced by the ICTY to 20 years' imprisonment for murder and torture, Šljivančanin was sentenced to five years' jail on charges of torture, but was acquitted on charges of extermination, and Radić was acquitted. Slavko Dokmanović was also indicted and arrested for his role in the massacre, but committed suicide in 1998 days before judgement was to be announced.

The Serbian chetniks (paramilitary) leader Vojislav Šešelj has been indicted on a variety of war crimes charges including several counts of extermination in relation to the Vukovar hospital massacre, in which his "White Eagles" were allegedly involved. In addition, Croatia has tried a number of Serbs for war crimes committed at Vukovar – although most of the original indictees either died before they could be tried, or had to be tried in absentia – and in December 2005 a Serbian court convicted fourteen former paramilitaries for their involvement in the hospital massacre.

Although the initial attack on Vukovar has not been the subject of war crimes charges, the ICTY's indictment of Slobodan Milošević characterised the overall JNA/Serb offensive in Croatia – including the fighting in Eastern Slavonia – as a "joint criminal enterprise" to remove non-Serb populations from Serb-inhabited areas of Croatia. Milošević was also charged with responsibility for exterminations, deportations and destruction of property conducted in Vukovar, as well as involvement in the hospital massacre.

Serbian courts later sentenced 14 former militiamen to jail terms of up to 20 years for the killing of at least 200 prisoners of war seized at a Vukovar hospital. A re-trial was ordered by Serbia's supreme court over alleged irregularities in the proceeding.

By the end of 1991, the official figures issued in Croatia showed that approximately 3,210 Croats were killed and 17,393 people wounded during the conflict. Most of the casualties were sustained during the siege of Vukovar. The exact numbers of casualties at Vukovar is still unknown. According to official Croatian figures, published by Croatian Ministry of Defence in 2006, Croatia lost 879 soldiers killed and 770 wounded in Vukovar only. According to Croatian general Anton Tus, about 1,100 of Vukovar's defenders were killed and 2,600 defenders and civilians were listed as missing; another 1,000 Croatian soldiers were killed on the approaches to Vinkovci and Osijek. He noted that the intensity of the fighting can be judged by the fact that the losses in Eastern Slavonia between September–November 1991 constituted half of all Croatian war casualties during the whole of 1991. In his book Croatian history, published 2004, Croatian historian Ivo Goldstein wrote that Croatian military losses in the Battle of Vukovar were 2,500 military dead (including forces which helped defence of Vukovar outside the town). The CIA estimates Croatian casualties at around 4,000-5,000 dead across Eastern Slavonia.