ZAGREB (Reuters) – Several thousand people from across Croatia rallied on Saturday in the eastern town of Vukovar, demanding that the state speed up investigations of war crimes committed in the area during the country’s 1991-95 independence war.
Vukovar, which lies on the Danube close to the Serbian border, was reduced to rubble during a three-month siege by the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army and local Serb militia in 1991.
Local people who suffered torture or rape during the conflict addressed the rally live and in videos, accusing Croatia’s institutions, notably the judiciary, of failing to prosecute war criminals.
“We should have organized this gathering much earlier… They keep saying for 27 years that there is no statute of limitations on war crimes, so how it is possible that there are no prosecutions?” asked Tomislav Josic, a war veteran from Vukovar.
After the siege more than 260 people, mainly Croats, who had sought shelter in the local hospital, were taken to a farm where they were beaten and executed by Serb paramilitaries and buried in a mass grave.
Some of those who were involved in war crimes still live in Vukovar, witnesses told the rally.
Two Yugoslav army officers were sentenced to prison by the Hague war crimes tribunal for their complicity in the farm massacre, but few perpetrators of these killings and other crimes were put on trial.
Some observers and analysts expressed doubt about the protest’s true motive, seeing the hand of some strongly conservative and right-wing groups which regard Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic as too moderate.
However, Vukovar mayor Ivan Penava – a member of Plenkovic’s conservative HDZ party who initiated the protest – denied such accusations. “We are here to say enough is enough,” he told the protestors, many of whom waved Croatian flags.
Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic recently said police had intensified investigations this year into war crimes committed in Vukovar.
The town has been rebuilt, but the area remains quite poor and ethnic tensions linger.
(Reporting by Igor Ilic; editing by David Stamp)