Still hurting, Vukovar seeks closure after Hadzic's arrest

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 20 Jul 2011 16:58 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Zoran Radosavljevic

VUKOVAR, Croatia, July 20 (Reuters) - In a town torn apart by the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, residents talk of reconciliation but also of the pain that remains despite the arrest of Goran Hadzic, the last Serb war crimes suspect.

For Josip Kolonic, Hadzic's detention is too little, too late.

"If you ask me, I wouldn't try him, I wouldn't shoot him. I would cut him to little pieces," said the 83-year old Croat pensioner.

"He was an uncouth go-getter who went around in 1990 and pumped up the local Serbs in favour of war. I am pleased he has been arrested but this should have happened a long time ago."

Hadzic was one of the political leaders of ethnic Serbs who rebelled against Croatia's independence in 1991. He was arrested after years in hiding in Serbia's northern Vojvodina province, an easy drive from Vukovar.

The United Nations war crimes tribunal has indicted him on charges of ethnic cleansing, killings and deportations of non-Serbs from Serb-held Krajina within Croatia.

Serb troops took away and killed more than 200 patients in Vukovar's hospital after capturing the town in November 1991 following a three-month siege.

Hadzic's trial might help the search for some of the 400 people from Vukovar who are still listed as missing, says Vesna Bosanac, the head of the hospital.

"You cannot call this satisfaction. We will never be satisfied after all we've gone through, but his trial gives us hope that some light will be shed on the fate of the missing," Bosanac said in her office in the redecorated hospital.

"The fact that Serbia has arrested two suspects in a short time is good. It shows Serbia has the political will to remove the burden of its recent history. It is good for them and good for relations among people (Serbs and Croats)."

In May, Serbia arrested the former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic, the most notorious of the war crimes suspects.

Vukovar, once a picturesque baroque town on the banks of the Danube, was reduced to rubble by Serb shelling and savage fighting.

For many years after the war, there was little attempt at reconstruction, jobs were scarce and ethnic tensions among Serbs and Croats ran high. The two communities had separate schools, cafes and soccer teams.

Twenty years later, the majority of houses have been rebuilt and the town has recovered some of its pre-war appearance although buildings still retain the scars of artillery shells and gunfire.

Ethnic relations are more relaxed than in the past and Vukovar Serbs said Hadzic's arrest would help improve relations between the two ethnic communities.

"I am pleased at the arrest; this brings war issues to a close and we will be able to live together again," said Milan, a 25-year old Serb from Vukovar. He refused to give his family name, saying he still did not feel confident enough.

Anja Mladenovic, a Serb student who works part-time as a waitress at a local cafe, said she hardly knew or cared who Hadzic was. "All I know is he will go to prison because he did some things he shouldn't have," she said.

Fist fights between Serbs and Croats were common a few years ago but have now given way to a peaceful separation, she said.

"They no longer fight, they just avoid each other. It will take a few more generations before things are back to normal." (Editing by Adam Tanner and Robert Woodward) (Created by Robert Woodward)