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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 March, 2004, 15:19 GMT
Vukovar trial consumes regional media
Vukovar refugees helped to safety by Red Cross after the fighting
Around 200 civilians are said to have been killed at Ovcara farm
The opening in Belgrade on Tuesday of the trial of six Serbs charged with killing about 200 civilians in the Croatian town of Vukovar in 1991 receives wide coverage in the regional media.

The event was the main item in TV evening bulletins and makes front-page headlines in papers on both sides of the political divide.

Serbian papers steer clear of comment and stick to factual reporting, whereas Croatian commentators are sceptical about the fairness of the proceedings.

Croatian TV points out that the first major war crimes trial in a Serbian court is widely seen as a test of whether similar trials can be held in future.

The TV interviews a number of Vukovar residents who say that the trial, 13 years after the event, has come too late.

This is not enough. It's not just these (six) who are guilty
Vukovar resident on Croatian TV

Others say they believe many of those behind the killings are still at large.

"This is not enough. It's not just these (six) who are guilty," says one. "Others who beat the prisoners, who took them to the farm, who tied them up or gave orders, are all guilty."

A survivor speaks of his harrowing experience: "The perpetrators killed the wounded, the hospital staff - the people who, in the turmoil of the defence of the town, were doing a purely humanitarian job."

Optimism vs cynicism

But some Vukovar residents are more optimistic.

The trial would be good news, if it were not for some circumstances which suggest that it could turn into a mere legal performance

"I hope the trial succeeds," says one. "I would not like this trial to descend into a farce," another adds.

But an editorial in the Croatian daily Vjesnik, headlined "Belgrade's show trial", sounds a note of caution.

"The opening of the trial would be good news, if it were not for some circumstances which suggest that it could turn into a mere legal performance, aimed at securing amnesty for those who ordered the crimes - some of whom are now in the Hague and some in Belgrade".

The paper suggests that "the chain of command, which is widely applied by the Hague tribunal to the Croatian army commanders who stopped the four-year Serb aggression, is hardly being applied to the Yugoslav National Army".

The daily accuses the tribunal of having double standards, which, it says, can only play into the hands of those, who would like to shift the blame onto the accused local soldiers.

The paper says it is understandable that such attempts should be made in Serbia, but less understandable that they should involve, even tacitly, the Hague tribunal.

Another Croatian daily, Slobodna Dalmacija, carries a factual report and quotes the Hague tribunal's spokeswoman, Florence Hartmann, emphasising the significance of the case.


Serbian TV leads its evening bulletin with the trial and quotes representatives of human rights NGOs from Croatia and Serbia on the importance of the case as a potential precedent for the future.

Main newspapers carry factual reports on their front pages, but there is no comment.

The independent Vecernje Novosti has the headline "Miroljub Vujovic denies responsibility for liquidation of 192 Croat POWs."

The paper carries a picture of two daughters of the former Yugoslav Army commander Veselin Slivancanin - one of the "Vukovar Three" currently awaiting a verdict in the Hague - captioned "Keen observers".

A report in another centrist daily Borba gives a detailed reconstruction of the events at Vukovar, with some gruesome details of the execution.

A headline in the tabloid Blic says "General Vasiljevic knows who ordered the massacre of civilians."

It points out that the huge media interest in the trial is a sign of its significance.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

The BBC's Allan Little
"In the Serbian capital finally there is something like atonement"

War crimes trial test for Serbs
09 Mar 04  |  Europe
Serb war suspect reaches Hague
01 Jul 03  |  Europe
In pictures: Sljivancanin arrest clashes
13 Jun 03  |  Photo Gallery
Most wanted: The 'Vukovar Three'
19 Apr 02  |  Europe
At a glance: Hague tribunal
20 Feb 03  |  Europe

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