Briton faces trial over Serb massacre of 200 Croats

A British citizen was charged on Thursday with war crimes in the Balkans 16 years ago and faces trial in Belgrade for allegedly taking part in the murder of at least 200 Croatian prisoners by Serbian firing squads.

Milorad Pejic, a Croatian Serb from the Croatian border town of Vukovar, lived in Corby in Northamptonshire for 10 years until last month and obtained a British passport. He is accused of involvement in one of the worst single atrocities of the Balkan wars — the killing of more than 200 people at a pig farm outside Vukovar after the Croatian town fell to besieging Serbian forces in November 1991.

Pejic was arrested after travelling to Belgrade last month from the United Kingdom. He is to be put on trial with 16 other suspects already being retried for the Ovcara farm massacre. They were found guilty, but the Supreme Court in Belgrade ordered a retrial by Serbia’s special war-crimes court.

”Pejic, who at the time of the event was a member of the Vukovar territorial defence force, took part in the execution of 200 ethnic Croats in November 1991,” said the Serbian prosecutor’s office.

The 39-year-old father of two, who owns a three-bedroom house in Corby, where he worked as a forklift truck driver, was a member of the firing squads who murdered the captives and dumped the bodies in pits at the farm complex, said Jasna Sarcevic-Jankovic, prosecution spokesperson.

When Vukovar fell to the Serbs, about 300 Croatian fighters and civilians at the town hospital were taken by bus to a barracks and then to the farm complex. Exhumations of the mass graves have since identified 261 corpses. The charge sheet says Pejic and his accomplices murdered about 200 and names 192 of the victims, some of whom were killed ”by slicing their throats with knives”.

The killers were ordered to load ”groups of 30 to 40 captives on a tractor-trailer [who were] transported in five or six turns to the execution site”, said the charge sheet. The victims were lined up before firing squads ”in front of previously dug pits”.

Pejic is expected to plead not guilty. Miroslav Djordjevic, his lawyer, said: ”He did not commit any crimes.” Djordjevic claimed his client had ”saved lives” in Vukovar.

The Serbian authorities have been investigating Pejic since 2003 and issued an international warrant through Interpol in 2006, raising questions over why the British failed to detain him. ”If Serbia has issued an international arrest warrant, then the UK was made aware of such a warrant,” said Ivan Jovanovic, a legal expert monitoring Serbia’s war-crimes court for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

In London, the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) is responsible for liaising with Interpol and dealing with international warrants. Pejic, who came to Britain from the Balkans — first to London, then to Corby, where lived with his Serbian wife and two teenage boys — was granted British citizenship under his real name.

Soca received an international notification on Pejic from Interpol late last year, at least a year after the Serbs issued their wanted notice. ”There is no link to the UK indicated in the warrant,” said a police source. Like most of the others in the Ovcara trial, he served in a Serbian ”territorial defence” unit at Vukovar which, with the Yugoslav army and paramilitary thugs, terrorised the town.

”It’s very strange,” said Natasa Kandic, Serbia’s foremost war-crimes campaigner. ”No one knew where Pejic was. They said he wasn’t alive. We thought he would have changed his name.” — Â

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