County Court in the eastern Croatian city of Osijek started on Monday a trial in absentia against former head of the Yugoslav military counter-intelligence service (KOS), General Aleksandar Vasiljevic, today aged 80, who is charged with war crimes against civilians and prisoners of war in prison camps in Serbia and Croatia in the early 1990s.
Vasiljevic is being tried in absentia, and after the indictment against his client was read, Vasiljevic’s defence attorney, Dubravko Marjanovic, said that his client did not commit the crime the state prosecution has charged him with.
Vasiljevic is charged with crimes committed during his term as the then chief-of-staff of the former Yugoslav Federal Secretariat for National Defence (SSNO) during the armed conflict in Croatia between the regular Croatian military and police forces and the paramilitary rebel Serb forces assisted by the former Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA).
According to prosecutors, after SSNO issued orders on October 10, 1991, to establish prison camps in Serbia and Croatia, Vasiljevic appointed his subordinates to head POW camps, and charged several security officers to conduct questioning of POWs interred there.
In the ensuing period between October 1991 and May 1992, civilians and captured Croatian soldiers were illegally brought and detained in these prison camps set up in areas around the cities of Osijek, Vukovar, Karlovac, Stara Gradiska, Slunj and elsewhere in the region.
The prosecution has listed 300 witnesses to testify at the trial, all of whom had been subjected to torture in prisoner camps in Croatia and in Serbia.
The prosecution said that Vasiljevic, who was the person in command of the system, was the one responsible for the application of international wartime humanitarian laws, and that he was fully aware that his subordinates committed gross violations of these laws, by killing and torturing detained civilians and POWs, as well as subjecting them to inhumane treatment.
Vasiljevic’s defence attorney Marjanovic said that his client’s actions did not amount to the criminal offence that he is being charged with.
He added that Vasiljevic served as chief-of-staff of state security in Serbia, and his role was to collect information from captured Croatian Army soldiers, which was conducted in the first month of them being captured, and that his client had no role in the organisation and running of POW camps in Serbia where they would be transferred after that initial period.