Škabrnja and Nadin massacre
Memorial to the victims of the Škabrnja massacre
|Location||Škabrnja and Nadin, Croatia|
|Date||November 1991–February 1992|
|Mass killing and ethnic cleansing|
The Škabrnja massacre (Croatian: Masakr u Škabrnji), also known as Škabrnja and Nadin massacre, was a war crime perpetrated by Serb Army forces during the Croatian War of Independence. On November 18, 1991, Serb paramilitaries, supported by the JNA, captured the village of Škabrnja (also: Škabrnje) and killed 7 prisoner of war and 62 civilians by March 1992. Several people also died when stepping on landmines. In total, 86 people were killed, mostly the women, or the elderly. Škabrnja and Nadin were ethnically cleansed of its non-Serb population and annexed to the Republic of Serbian Krajina, remaining there until the Croatian forces reintegrated them back in 1995.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) characterized the killings as a crime against humanity and subsequently jailed two Serb officials: Milan Martić and Milan Babić. Two further indictees, Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović, were found not guilty on all charges and released.
Škabrnja is located in south-western Croatia and formed part of the municipality of Zadar, which bordered the Benkovac municipality, near the Adriatic sea. Škabrnja had about 2,000 inhabitants, almost exclusively Croat. There were three churches in and around the city. Nadin, a neighboring village just a mile and a half away, was located in the Benkovac municipality. It was also almost exclusively inahbited by Croats and had between 300 and 660 inhabitants as well as 120 to 150 houses.
In August 1991, running water and electricity to Nadin has been switched off from the Republic of Serbian Krajina. By September 1991, around 240 Croatian reserve police officers and local volunteers were stationed in Škabrnja. That month, both villages were shelled by the Serb side. Cluster bombs were used in one shelling. After three inhabitants were killed, it was decided that civilians should evacute from Škabrnja. The police and volunteers stayed to guard the village. in October, the JNA attacked Nadin, whereupon two men were killed. The attack was aimed at deblocking the road from Benkovac to the airport in Zemunik. By the 10 October, Marko Miljanić was appointed commander of the defence in Škabrnja and Nadin. He established a battalion of 730 policemen and volunteers from the area. On 6 November, the evacuated inhabitants returned to their homes in Škabrnja.
Attack on Škabrnja and Nadin
The units of JNA 9th Corps, the Benkovac Territorial Defence (TO) and SAO Krajina police, consisting of up to 200 soldiers and three tanks, attacked Škabrnja on 18 and 19 November 1991 between 6:00 and 7:00 hours in the morning from the direction of Smilčić, a Serb village. The JNA side was under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Momčilo Bogunović.
When the Serb units started to enter Škabrnja, Croat forces opened fire at them. The church of the Assumption of the Virgin in the centre of Škabrnja and a school was fired upon by a JNA tank. JNA and TO forces expulsed civilians out of the village to the territory still in control of the Croatian government. By 14:00 hours, half of Škabrnja has fallen under Serb forces. By evening, the village was under total Serb control and every Croatian police officer had left the area. The Croats lost 15 men in combat, while the Serbs had only two killed. 1500 civilians fled – mostly to Zadar - while a further 100 fled into the forest. A total of 450 houses and three Catholic churches were burnt down.
The next day, the Serb forces shelled and attacked Nadin.
Killings in Škabrnja and Nadin
In the morning hours of 18 November, eight people took refuge in the cellar of Slavko Šegarić's house in Škabrnja. They heard someone yelling outside: „Come out you Ustashe, we are going to slaughter you all“. Shortly after, ten JNA soldiers entered the house, followed by six Serb paramilitary soldiers. They forced the people out, except for one woman, who was shot by a paramilitary soldier in the celar. A man and a woman were forced to kneel down, after which a soldier wearing a „SAO Krajina“ patch shot them in the head. Another man was beaten and also killed.
At the same time, about 25 to 30 civilians were hiding in Petar Pavičić's house during the attack. After the shelling of the village stopped, a 20 minute pause followed. When one woman went outside the cellar to see what was happening, Serb forces noticed them and ordered them to come out. After they came out, Serb paramilitary soldiers shot twelve of them. The JNA officers prevented further killings.
On the 19 November, JNA soldiers arrived to the house of Petar Sopić in Nadin and found seven people there, including women. One man was taken outside the house and shot, while the remaining civilians were shot inside the house.
One woman was crushed by a tank. An infirm woman, aged between 80 and 96 years, was killed in Mile Šegarić's house. The Serb forces cut off the ear of one man, Ante Ražov, and then shot him in the head in front of his mother. He was a member of the Croatian defence force in Škabrnja, but was not taking an active part in the hostilities when he was killed.
Three members of the Croatian defence force were killed in combat while four further civilians were killed in Škabrnja and Nadin by 19 November. Two Škabrnja inhabitants were killed in Benkovac while a woman was wounded by a shell and died in Zadar. Between 18 November 1991 and 11 March 1992, 14 civilians were intentionally killed by members of JNA and four further civilians were killed on 11 March 1992.
On 23 November 1991, the JNA handed over 35 bodies from Škabrnja to the Civilian Protection of Zadar municipality. By 5 December, a further 13 bodies from Škabrnja and Nadin were handed over to the Croatian officials. In several cases, entire families were killed, including the Šegarić family which lost six members.
Protests in Serbia
After leaving the JNA, about 200 Serbian reservists who spent two months in Dalmatian hinterland, publicly demonstrated in Belgrade against crimes committed by Serbian paramilitaries, including in Škabrnja. According to them, after JNA captured Croatian villages, the paramilitaries would follow by „pillaging, raping and even massacring“.
International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia
- Slobodan Milošević - president of Serbia, indicted the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for murder, wanton destruction of villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity, plunder of public or private property and deportations, including in Škabrnja. He died before a verdict was reached.
- Milan Martić - president of the Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) and its Minister of the Interior who had absolute authority over the MUP and over the armed forces, the TO and Milicija Krajine, was sentenced for persecutions and murders across Croatia, including in Škabrnja, and sentenced to 35 years in prison.
- Milan Babić - president of RSK, indicted for crimes in Škabrnja. He expressed remorse for his actions during the war and pleaded guilty to persecutions. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
- Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović - Stanišić, Head or Chief of the State Security Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Serbia, and Simatović, commander of the Special Operations Unit of the same agency, were both charged for persecutions, deportations and murders in Croatia and Bosnia, including Škabrnja. The indictment burdens them for establishing the Serbian paramilitaries. They were found not guilty on all charges and released.
At the County Court in Zadar, the State Prosecutor's Office indicted 18 people in August 1994 for 43 civilian deaths. Most of the group was sentenced on November 11, 1995 in absentia, and the sixteen convictees included: Goran Opačić, Boško Dražić, Zoran Janković, Đuro Kosović, Mirko Drača, Nada Pupovac, Zorana Banić, Vojin Lakić, Petar Radmanović, Milenko Bjelanović, Iso Bjelanović, Špiro Bjelanović, Renato Petrov, Desimir Ivaneža, Miroslav Mlinar, Marinko Pozder.
A female nurse Zorana Banić, named number eight in the original indictment, was incarcerated after she was arrested in Switzerland in 2001 and extradited to Croatia. Her initial sentence was 10 years in prison, but she was since re-tried twice. In 2003 she was found guilty by the County Court in Zadar and sentenced to 13 years in prison. The Supreme Court of Croatia ordered a re-trial, and in 2004 she was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Finally, the Supreme Court sentenced her to six years in prison.
Another female defendant, Edita Rađen, a medical worker who was sentenced in absentia to a sentence of 15 years in prison, appealed based on an alleged alibi. The County Court in Zadar rejected the appeal, but the Supreme Court accepted it in 2007 and ordered a re-trial.
A third nurse, Nada Pupovac, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 1995, but was never incarcerated. Two men have served prison time, Momčilo Drača and Jovan Badžoka.
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