1992 Yugoslav People's Army column incident in Tuzla
|1992 Yugoslav People's Army column incident in Tuzla|
|Part of the Bosnian War|
|Commanders and leaders|
| Niko Juric
|Lt. Colonel Mile Dubajić|
|Casualties and losses|
|Unknown, at least one wounded according too the Bosnians.||50-300 killed, 44 injured & 100-140 captured|
The 1992 Yugoslav People's Army column incident in Tuzla was an attack on the 92nd Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) Motorized Brigade in the Bosnian city of Tuzla that took place on 15 May 1992. The incident occurred at the road junction of Brčanska Malta. At least 50 members of the JNA were killed and 44 wounded during the attacks.
That day, Yugoslav military garrison stationed at the May the 14 barracks in Tuzla set out to leave the city in a column; apparently in agreement with the local authorities headed by Tuzla mayor Selim Beslagic.
Witnesses reportedly stated that the convoy left the barracks around 2 p.m., but was stopped at a checkpoint by members of the local territorial defense force soon after they're departure. The convoy was sent back and again attempted to leave the city at 7 p.m.
The local troops sent the convoy back because they were allegedly carrying “excess equipment”, although in the second departure the same number of soldiers and the same amount of equipment was apparently allowed to remain in the convoy. Besides trucks and armored troop carriers, which were disarmed, the convoy also apparently consisted of civilian cars in which civilians who wanted to leave the together with the Yugoslavs traveled. The civilians were unarmed, and the soldiers carried only sidearms with small amounts of ammunition, which had been previously agreed upon with the local authorities.
“When we were sent back, we started getting suspicious, nervous, but we believed that they would respect the agreement when we were told that we were leaving at 7 p.m.” one of the soldiers later recalled.
“Around 7p.m. Colonel Dubajic came and said that we were leaving without any problems. He was in the first vehicle, followed by a vehicle with Territorial Defense (TO) soldiers, then one armored troop carrier and six trucks. The first vehicle behind them, an armored troop carrier, was mine. I was the driver… Then at the intersection for Simin Han (“Brcanska Malta”) they started shooting from the side, most likely from the surrounding buildings. The vehicles in front of me scattered. They shot at my transporter as well, some 5-6 bullets. Behind us everything was on fire. We could not return and had nowhere to return to, we were unarmed and unprepared for battle,” Risto Gavric, today living in Bijeljina, later stated. Gavric was at the time a JNA reservist, mobilized a month before the incident (he was in the first, shortest part of the convoy, where the soldiers managed to get out without suffering excess casualties, as they were closest to territory controlled by the just formed Army of the Republic of Srpska (VRS).
At the time shooting started, the vehicles behind Gavric’s troop carrier experienced the brunt of the onslaught.
“A few of us were in a truck, the twelfth vehicle in the convoy. Shooting came from all sides. I was hit by five bullets. People around me were also wounded. Everything around us, outside, was on fire. Wherever I turned, I saw people in our uniforms lying on the street. Wherever one turned there were dead and fire, real hell. In front of our truck, a fuel truck was hit, but fortunately it was empty. Our driver was not hurt and he sped up towards the exit from the city. We prayed that he stay alive. He pulled the truck to Simin Han on bare wheels, and there the engine died. Fortunately, some people took us in there and pulled us out of trucks. The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital in Bijeljina,” Radojica Ilic, a survivor of the column recalled.
He and other witnesses stressed that they were insulted by the crowds from the moment they left the barracks. “They spat on us and cursed us, said we were Chetniks, flashed victory signs. I wondered then and later whether those were the people I had lived with in the same city, what made them hate us so much. After everything, the man, besides losing all the material goods, loses trust in the people he had lived with. I think that that is the worst trauma,” Radojica said.
The entire attack on the convoy was allegedly broadcast live on a local TV station, “Front Slobode FS-3."
Survivors of the attack were & are convinced that it had been planned in advance. “Sharp shooters were placed on the buildings around the May 14 barracks. Territorial Defense soldiers were everywhere. We had information that they would attack us. Garbage containers around the barracks were booby trapped” said a former JNA reservist from Tuzla.
According to the data of the local authorities in Tuzla, 51 soldiers were killed during the attack. Court expert Zdenko Cihlaz later stated that 5-6 bodies were carbonized and could not be identified. Tuzla High Court judge Vehid Sehic said “that figure is probably correct” but could did not say where the remaining +30 bodies (that had recently been moved from a hangar in Banja Luka to a common graveyard in Bijeljina) were located. “Everything is in the files, Colonel Dubajic should talk about everything as well, that’s the only way to find out the truth" he stated.
Later inquiries were unable to locate the mentioned files, as the military authorities in Tuzla stated that they “were not sure whether they can reveal the content of the files to the public."
A list names the 51 JNA soldiers known to have been killed.
Later inquiries & trials
When interviewed in on Tuzla television in May of 2002, former Tuzla mayor Selim Beslagic stated about the incident:
"It is not true that anything had been prepared in advance; my wife and children were at the time in a house on Brcanska Malta, Until the last moment we negotiated with Dubajic that the barracks be left only with side arms and their personal effects. A day before the soccer game ‘Zvezda’-‘Partizan’ had taken place and I was told that all of them were totally drunk and were shooting left and right. We negotiated with Dubajic for the sake of the security of that convoy. Our people from the Crisis Headquarters were in the convoy. Enver Delibegovic was at the start of the convoy, Jasmin Imamovic and Benjamin Fisekovic in the middle and Mr Brkic at the end. I would not be such a cynic and idiot to expose them to danger and attack the convoy. Secondly, the Crisis Headquarters was told several times that soldiers from the convoy were shooting at them. We told them three-four times to be patient, but the forth time we told them to open fire. Did we not have the right to defend ourselves? If anyone contests that right, I disagree, I am prepared to go to the Hague if necessary, because it seems that time has come for me to defend myself in the Hague. I am proud that on May 15 we responded to their challenge the way we had to respond and that we observed all the rules of warfare. If I am responsible for that, I will not avoid responsibility, but I won’t allow anyone to take my May 15 (a reference to a yearly city holiday commemorating the incident) away"
The only investigation conducted by the local authorities in connection with the attack on the JNA convoy was initiated by the then prosecutor of the District Prosecutor’s office in Tuzla, Vidosav Gajic. Gajic initiated an investigation against several “captured reservists of the JNA due to well-founded suspicion that they were soldiers of the enemy army." Vehid Sehic, who was in charge of the investigation as the then judge of the Higher Court in Tuzla confirmed later on; “I only questioned seven or eight of those wounded soldiers who were kept, after being released from the hospital, in the military investigative prison. In addition I took statements from conscripts, as well as from Niko Juric, who was the commander of the TO action on May 15 1992. I concluded the investigation after about 20 days and gave the file to the prosecutor. I don’t know what happened with the file afterwards. A far as I know, all of those cases came under the jurisdiction of the Military Court during the summer of 1992." Soon after the end of the investigation Sehic quit his position at the Tuzla High Court. He currently heads an NGO named “Tuzla Civic Forum."
He also claimed that some or the soldiers recovering in the hospital told him that “first shots came from the convoy”, and that Juric claimed that “The TO responded to fire only after one of their men was wounded”. “I was told that the reservists started shooting in the barracks and kept shooting from the retreating convoy,” Sehic added, immediately adding that he “did not really look into who was responsible for the conflict between the YPA and the TO."
When asked whether he believed that if the TO was “merely responding to shooting from the convoy" that they could possibly be responsible for excessive use of force (such charges for example mentioned in the Hague Tribunal indictments related to the activities of the Yugoslav Army in Kosovo in 1998-1999), Sehic responded that he could not say, as he “did not look into the conflict."
Years later, the Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor's Office indicted Ilija Jurišić, on suspicion that he committed a war crime by allegedly ordering the attack. The case was dismissed before Bosnian courts. He was arrested at the Belgrade Airport in May 2007 and was found guilty of improper battlefield conduct in 2009 and sentenced to 12 years in prison. In October 2010, an appeals court later overturned the sentence. The Belgrade Appeals Court ordered a re-trial and released him from detention.
Tuzla citizens have continued to express their support for Ilija Jurišić. Subsequently, Jurišić was welcomed by a large crowd upon his return to Tuzla on 11 October 2010 after his sentence was overturned. The re-trial was held and he was sentenced again to 12 years in prison. On 2 April 2015, an appeal commenced against the result of the re-trial.
The city of Tuzla celebrates 15 May as "City Liberation Day".
When interviewed in May, 2002, former Tuzla mayor Selim Beslagic stated about the holiday “No one is forced to celebrate May 15; I will celebrate on my own if necessary, because I stayed alive and because I helped that many people stay alive."
- "Serbia jails Bosnian Croat for 1992 war crimes". Reuters. 28 September 2009.
- Jutarnji list - Nakon tri i pol godine iz beogradskog zatvora pušten bosanski Hrvat Ilija Jurišić (in Croatian)
- Gec, Jovana (12 October 2010). "Sentence for ex-Bosnian officer overturned". Associated Press.
- "Opet 12 godina za tuzlansku kolonu (Again 12 Years for Tuzla Column)". b92.net. B92. 2 December 2013. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
- "Barašin: "Predmeti 'Tuzlanska kolona' i 'Bradina' i dalje aktivni"". 24 Sata. Retrieved 29 December 2009.
- "Protest in Support of Ilija Jurisic". Balkan Investigative Reporting Network. 19 October 2009.
- "Jurisic given hero's welcome in BiH". SETimes. 12 October 2010.
- "Ilija Jurišić u Beogradu, odbrana traži oslobađanje" [In Belgrade, the defence seeks the release of Jurišić]. 2 April 2015.
- "Nastavlja se suđenje za napad na tuzlansku kolonu". Novosti. 19 May 2009.
- Tuzla Column (Pros. v. Ilija Jurišić)
- Novi Reporter: Incomplete Lineup (First indictments for Tuzla convoy)