Croat cleansing? 2/2

Chris Burford cburford at gn.apc.org
Sat Aug 19 07:33:38 MDT 1995


/* Written  8:37 pm  Aug 14, 1995 by igc:pnbalkans in gn:yugo.antiwar */
/* ---------- "A visit to Petrinja & Sisak (fwd)" ---------- */
>Fwd From OTVORENE-OCI_ZG at ZAMIR-ZG.ztn.apc.org
>From: OTVORENE-OCI_ZG at ZAMIR-ZG.ztn.apc.org (Otvorene oci)
>Subject: A Visit to Petrinja and Sisak
>Date: Sun, 13 Aug 1995 11:55:00 +0200
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O T V O R E N E   O C I
The Croatian Branch of the Balkan Peace Team
Male Putine 2/V  41000 Zagreb  CROATIA
Zagreb:  tel/fax +385-41-156-349
Split:  tel/fax +385-58-553-610
otvorene-oci_zg at zamir-zg.ztn.zer.de
otvorene-oci_st at zamir-zg.ztn.zer.de
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13 August, 1995 -  Zagreb

The Situation in Sisak and Petrinja

     On Friday, 11 August, Otvorene Oci traveled to Sisak and
Petrinja  in accompaniment of two Croatian human rights activists
from Porec. The  purpose of this trip was to determine the
situation for Serb people still left in  the area around
Petrinja, and to view the general situation in the areas
recently captured by Croatian forces.

     Our first stop in Sisak was to the police station to try to
secure  permission to travel to the refugee holding centers in
and around Sisak.  These centers have been set up for Serb people
who wish to stay in Croatia.  The police referred us to the local
Red Cross, which in turn referred us to  the Ministry of Social
Services. At the Ministry of Social Services we were  told that,
in all, there are about 600 persons in these centers from the
area of  former Sector North. The Ministry, which has lists of
the persons registered  at the camps, was very helpful in
assisting our activist contacts in locating a  family for whom
they were searching. They directed us to a camp in a local
school.

     This camp held about 50 persons. Here the social worker in
charge  was unable to locate the family, but allowed the
activists to visit the refugees  to find out where the family
might have gone. Although we were unable to  find the family,
which was reported by some of the refugees to have gone  back to
a village in the Petrinja area, we were able to get a view as to
what it  was like for the refugees.

     Many of them were distraught, having lost everything but
what  could be carried in a car, trailer, or in some cases, only
a suitcase. When our  contacts tried to ask one man for
information on the whereabouts of the  family, he fell back on
his bed and would only say, "I don't know anything."  Throughout
the day relatives of the refugees, who had been living abroad or
in Croatian-controlled territory, arrived to locate and pick up
their relatives.  We witnessed one such reunion. After talking
briefly and tearfully with the  woman who had come to find him,
the man went to his quarters to pick up  his possessions, all of
which fit into a box small enough to be easily carried.  They
were free to leave together.

     The Croatian social workers at this camp appeared to be
doing all  that they could to help the refugees. Of particular
interest was the social  worker at the front desk who went in
search of persons when people came  to inquire. He had three
children with him, and he kept them busy by having  them run
small errands or watch the desk when he was away. It seemed to
give the children some sense of purpose, and something to do
besides sit  around and wait. All of the social workers whom we
saw seemed to be  working hard in a difficult situation.

     The next stage of our journey was to try to get into
Petrinja, which  had been taken by the Croatian army only a few
days before. We came to a  checkpoint at the edge of town.
Although some cars came and went through  the checkpoint, the
police officer was not letting everyone through. The car  in
front of us, which had German license plates, was stopped, as
were we.  We were told that we could not pass because there were
"still crazy things  going on." After the persons in the car in
front of us argued with the officer  for awhile, he seemed to
give up, and waved us all through with a look of  exasperation.
Thus we got into Petrinja.

     The area around the checkpoints by the UN outpost, site of
the  former Serb checkpoint, showed evidence of having witnessed
a heavy  battle. There were many bunkers which had been blown up,
as well as deep  holes in the soft earth from artillery. There
was one burnt APC on the side  of the road, next to a tank which
had been destroyed in 1991. We couldn't  determine on which side
of the conflict the APC had been.

     Driving into town, we saw evidence of recently burnt houses.
Some  of the damage seemed to have come from artillery barrages,
but some  seemed to have been done deliberately. Throughout the
town, we saw  recently burnt and blown up houses. However,
Petrinja was, all in all, quite  whole. Many of the shops had
been broken into and looted, but not all.  Many of the homes were
also in untouched condition. We visited the home  of a relative
of a friend. It was locked up, and only had a couple of cracked
windows, probably the result of artillery shock waves. The people
appear to  have packed in a hurry and left, but their was no
evidence of looting. The  neighboring house still had all the
stock in the yard, including a cow in the  barn. After six days
it still looked healthy, and we wondered who was  feeding it. We
also saw some people with two calves in the back of a trailer.
We couldn't tell if they collecting stock or returning to their
homes with  stock.

     While it was evident that almost the entire Serb population
had fled,  the town was not empty. People from Sisak were driving
through to look,  and it seemed as if some Croatian displaced
persons were returning to their  homes. Several commercial trucks
drove past us, as well as many private  autos. We did find one
elderly couple who had stayed behind and not left  with the
evacuation. The husband was a Serb, and the wife was Croat. She
expressed several times the sentiment that she was happy to be in
"our  Croatia." Her husband seemed quite pleased, too. They were
very happy to  talk to us.

     The couple told us that the town's Serb authorities had
organized an  evacuation on Friday, 4 August. They claim that a
man had come to their  house and told them that the area was
being evacuated. They told him that  they preferred to stay. They
were not forced to leave or threatened in any  way. The couple
told us that the evacuation had been voluntary.   Throughout our
trip through Petrinja we were not stopped once.  Even though
their were many police and soldiers in the town, none of them
questioned our presence their. Their attitude seemed to be quite
relaxed. We  saw people bicycling through town, or standing on
the sidewalk chatting  with friends. This atmosphere was
surprising in light of the fact that the  town had seen battle
only days before.

     From Petrinja we followed the route taken by Serb refugees
on the  Croatian police-organized convoys to Serbia. As the road
left Sisak we saw  a number of carts on the side of the road,
some of which had been tipped  over. There was much broken glass
on the ground in some areas. Many of  the carts had been or were
being looted by local residents who had come  with trucks and
carts of their own. Occasionally we passed a tractor which  had
broken down on the side of the road, forcing its owners to
abandon  their property to continue on the back of other people's
carts.    We caught up with the day's convoy, comprised of
persons from  villages in former Sector North. About a hundred
tractors and autos, some  pulling trailers, wound down the road
to the highway. In order to prevent  the violent scene of a
couple of days before, Croatian police officers were  stationed
every 100 meters along the side of the road. A police escort
prevented civilian autos from passing the convoy. The convoy was
allowed  to enter onto the highway at Popovac, while those in
civilian autos were  made to use a parallel road to travel north
or south. We stopped to watch  the last of the refugees, which
had been separated from the main convoy by  mechanical problems,
enter the highway. One man drove his tractor pulling  a loaded
trailer at top speed onto the highway on ramp, even though he had
a completely flat tire. He was desperate to get past the crowds
of observers,  and did not want to risk loosing the last of his
possessions.   On the road back to Zagreb from Popovac, where we
had to leave  the refugee convoy, we passed numerous convoys of
the Croatian army,  apparently pulling out from the area.
Shooting their weapons, honking their  horns, and flashing their
lights, the victorious soldiers celebrated all the way  home,
receiveing cheers of support from people lining the roadside.

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