FRI, 28 NOV 1997 23:23:10 GMT
In the past few days in Belgrade, the news that 10 thousand Serb warriors were killed in the combats for Vukovar came as a bombshell. This is the topic which was passed over in silence in the past several years. The citizens are consternate, and the "celebrated", nowadays mostly retired generals - commanders of the Vukovar operation, deny this datum. Well informed military experts, however, say that the datum declared by general Antun Tus should not be disregarded.
AIM Belgrade, 23 November, 1997
Six years ago, on 18 November, units of the army of the "deceased" Yugoslavia, territorial defence, paramilitary and other Serb professional patriots, along with their commanders and band-leaders, triumphantly marched into what was left of Vukovar, after having systematically shattered it for 86 days from more than a thousand artillery barrels. Having finally crushed the resistance of "Croat defenders", the victors were given medals and promotions in Belgrade (57 of them). Nobody, either at the time or later, indeed to this very day, nobody except those whose families were directly affected by the Vukovar tragedy, asked what was the price of this "Vukovar victory"?
And then suddenly, in the beginning of November this year, Novi list, daily from Rijeka, carried the statement of retired general of Croatian Army who had until the eve of the war been the commander of air-force and antiaircraft defence of the army of former Yugoslavia, Antun Tus, which somewhat agitated the calm of the public opinion in Serbia. According to the interpretation of the media, general Tus claims that in the attack on Vukovar, the Serb party engaged all 40 thousand of its combatants of different "profile" (regular army servicemen, reserve forces, members of territorial defence, volunteers), while along the lines of Croatian defence there were about 2,500 warriors; that the attackers in Vukovar operation "lost 10 thousand soldiers, 600 armoured vehicles and 23 airplanes", and that among the ranks of the defenders "only" 1,850 warriors were killed and that another 2,000 disappeared.
Those who felt called to account welcomed Tus with a barrage of objections. For example, retired general Andrija Biorcevic, former commander of Novi Sad corps and commander of the North operation force in Vukovar operation, on the whole page of Belgrade Dnevni telegraf on 14 November, replied to Tus that he was not speaking the truth: "What Antun Tus is saying are notorious lies. He had better count his victims... At the time Tus was still loyal to the Yugoslav People's Army...". In fact, he was not, Tus was already the head of the general staff of the Croatian Army. Biorcevic also claims: "All together, I do not think there was more than 1,500 killed on our side".
Milan Milivojevic, retired colonel, also one of the commanders in combats for Vukovar, in the same newspaper on the same day, says: "If what Tus declared is true, then he should be accused of genocide. According to my data, 300 soldiers were killed at the most, and the rest to 10 thousand must have been civilians killed by the Croats...". He also claims that the Croats did not destroy more than ten armoured vehicles, and that as concerning shooting down airplanes "it is just another cock-and-bull story, except for one above Slavonski brod".
The journalist of Dnevni telegraf also asked the information service of the General Staff of the Army of Yugoslavia for a comment, but, he claims, nobody responded over there. However, the known military political commentator from Belgrade, close to the General Staff, Miroslav Lazanski, presents the following arguments in Belgrade Vecernje novosti of 14 November: during the Vukovar operation "on the side of JNA, territorial defence and units of volunteers, exactly 1,103 members were killed"; "110 armoured vehicles were lost"; "two combat planes were shot down", and "another one fell due to technical failure". "These are correct data", Lazanski writes, "everything else is propaganda...", along with the comment that allegations of general Tus "are ridiculous and surprising".
Nevertheless, perhaps in this case everything is not necessarily propaganda. Apart from mostly unfounded disqualifications and abusive language fired at general Tus in the beginning of the war after he had been retired in Belgrade and in Zagreb offered the post of the general in command - Antun Tus was both here and there an esteemed "officer and gentleman"; both here and there he was an authority in military science who knew equally well the circumstances on both sides engaged in the bloody feud and at the time of Vukovar calamity. Although one of the founders of the Croatian Army, the very minute this army started leaving dishonourable traces behind it, the general said good-bye both to it and its commander-in-chief, Franjo Tudjman. There is, therefore, no serious reason which would induce this man to use untruths.
His evaluation of losses at Vukovar was approved by two retired generals in Serbia, honourable men who were highly esteemed in the former military hierarchy and who are still believed to be respectable military analysts, although they are not willing to face the public not even on this occasion. Their logic starts from the principle of classic warfare according to which losses of the attacker are at least three times greater than those of the defenders: "So, if, including the disappeared mentioned by Tus, the Croats lost between three and four thousand soldiers, the calculus is very simple". As an illustration they add the following facts: "even a general, commander of Novi Sad corps before Biorcevic, Mladen Bratic was killed" in the operation; "if 20 men were put out of action just from the rear battalion of Novi Sad corps, and the battalion was based on this side of the Danube, in Karadjordjevo, we can only imagine what was happening in the first combat lines"; "if from a single comparatively small municipality, Backi Brestovac, according to our sources, 35 members of the territory defence were killed...".
Contrary to Croatia where they speak of their casualties (not only in Vukovar) in the context of political marketing, in this "warring party", for political reasons again, the dead in one's own ranks are passed over in silence. If from time to time the public is informed about some of them, it is extremely curtly and in general. Nevertheless, it is possible to discern a significant fact here and there even from such statements.
For example, general Zvonko Jurjevic, commander of the air-force and anti-aircraft defence of the JNA during the war in Slovenia and Croatia (one of the most tragic figures in this war turmoil: being a Croat the official Zagreb rejected him as a "traitor", and on the same grounds, Belgrade became suspicious about his loyalty), immediately after the fall of Vukovar gave a statement to a reporter of the Croatian army weekly called Narodna armija: "When speaking of casualties, I must say that they are often wrongly interpreted, exaggerated. The losses in this period were far below the average known to the world". Of course they were "below the average" when the main force of "Croatian anti-aircraft defence" at that moment consisted of the "fleet" of agricultural air-force which was destroyed at its base airport in Osijek. At the time, Jurjevic said that "60 per cent of the so far lost combat airplanes are the 'seagull' and 'hawk' type airplanes which were at the time gradually withdrawn from use. It is characteristic for the air-force that 68 per cent of the total losses were from among the officers, while 32 per cent were soldiers... From the total number of losses among the officers and non-commissioned officers, 50 per cent were pilots of all ranks, from an assistant corps commander, commander of the regiment, to the youngest pilots..."
Had only two to three aircrafts from the combat fleet of the attackers above Vukovar been shot down (and probably on the entire Croatian front) as Tus's opponents in Belgrade claim, Jurjevic's comment would have made no sense at all.
For Mile Mrksic, retired general and one from the list of the indicted of the Hague Tribunal, and in Vukovar operation commander of the operation group called "South" - Vukovar was (also dictated to the reporter of the weekly Narodna armija) "the hardest and the best fortified Ustashe fortress"; while general Veljko Kadijevic proclaimed Vukovar defence to be "the backbone of Croatian army". This stressed significance of firmness of defence of Vukovar might be an attempt to conceal losses which are persistently hidden from the public.
At the square in front of the sports' centre in Novi Sad, Nenad Canak, leader of the League of Social Democrats of Voivodina (himself an unwilling eye-witness of Vukovar tragedy) spoke on 18 November this year on the occasion of building of a monument to all the victims of this war operation: a flying bird made of cannon and mortar shells fallen on Vukovar, work of Nikola Simijanovic, who was also mobilized by force. The monument warns and reminds that "a lot of young men from Voivodina were killed" over there, he said.