BALKAN_MEDIA_&_POLICY_MONITOR

Dejan Anastasijevic looks in the November 22, 1997 issue of the Belgrade weekly 'Vreme' at the disparate numbers presented by the Croatian and Serbian sides about the death toll of the Vukovar siege.

A new match has begun, the new players are pensioned generals, and the chips are the soldiers of the former JNA who were killed during the Vukovar siege.

The first card was set on the table by general Anton Tus, who was the commander of the Yugoslav Air Force until mid-1991, who became the chief of staff of the RH ZNG (initial name for the Croatian Army) after he went back to Croatia. In the interview to Rijeka independent daily 'Novi List', Tus stated that the backbone of the Yugoslav army was broken in Vukovar, since during the three months of war it lost 10,000 soldiers, 600 armored vehicles and 23 airplanes. During this period, says Tus, Crots, even though they were weaker in military equipment, they lost only 1850 fighters.

There came an immediate fierce response by former commander of the Novi Sad Corps, pensioned general Andrija Biorcevic, who stated for the Belgrade daily 'Dnevni Telegraf' that Tus 'is telling notorious lies', and that it would be better for him to count his own victims'.

In all truth, Biorcevic could not remember how many people he lost, but he said that 'he does not believe that it was more than 1500 killed'. Biorcevic explained that during the siege of Vukovar, most of the combat activities took place from a distance and from well entrenched positions'. At the same time, pensioned colonel Milan Milivojevic from the Association of Veterans of 1990 Wrs also reacted, according to whom Croats destroyed at most ten armored vehicles, and a single airplane, which was downed over Slavonski Brod.

Then cme commentary by Miroslav Lazanski, in some ways an unofficial spokesman of the Yugoslav Army, who explained to the readers of the daily 'Vecernje Novosti' what really happened in Vukovar. Everything, he says, started in August of 1991, when Croatian paramilitary forces began to kill Serbs around Vukovar and at the same time surrounded and blocked the JNA barracks. Already in September, says he, the JNA Guard Brigade got the task to enter Vukovar 'with the primary goal to de-block the garrison there'. But since the Croats resisted, the matter took the form of a combined operation, at which the JNA used mainly armored - mechanized means so to minimize the number of casualties on its side. Then follows the accusation that ZAgreb, in accordance with the advice of its foreign mentors, 'consciously supported the agony of that city, gaining psychological - propaganda points on the international scene'. He then says that ?during the Vukovar operation, exactly 1103 members of the JNA, TO and volunteer units got killed, 110 armored vehicles were lost, and two fighter jets were downed, while one fell because of malfunction.

There is no reason to bring these numbers into question, but the whole polemics, including the one that preceded it is causing nausea. The fact that Tus, only six years after the event is throwing the numbers of casualties around like that shows how seriously he took his job. Biorcevic is even worse, because Tus at least remembers exactly how many casualties he had on his side, while the former commander of the Novi Sad Corps has no notion of that, if that number ever really interested him at all, since his number differs from the one that Lazanski quotes for more than forty percent.

Along with this, all of them, Tus, Biorcevic and Lazanski, through their interpretations, forgot to present some of the circumstances. Tus forgot to mention Tomislav Mercep; Biorcevic is right when he says that the largest part of combat activities took place from a distance, with artillery, but that is not all: many actions took place in close combat, with cold steel, against the civillians. Biorcevic is also the man that took pride in the fact few years ago that the Serbian Volunteer Gurd of Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan was under his command. Lazanski is a story to himself: the soldiers from the JNA barracks, whose de - blocking was 'the main task' of the Guard Brigade were successfully evacuated at the very beginning of the siege, and it does not stand as a fact that for the continuation of the fighting the only guilt lies with Croats and their foreign mentors.

Source: Belgrade weekly 'Vreme', November 22, 1997

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