Today marks 21 years since the ambush on a convoy of soldiers of the former Yugoslav Peoples’ Army (JNA) that was retreating from Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
caption: Yugoslav people’s Army (JNA) column attacked from civilian homes
On May 15, 1992, Bosnian Muslim paramilitary troops, aided by the local officials, used snipers to ambush and attack Yugoslav Army convoy while it was attempting to withdraw from the territory of then-Yugoslav republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. As a result, up to 200 JNA conscripts were killed, 33 were wounded, 140 were imprisoned and tortured, many of whom were handed back to their loved ones in the body bags later on. For some, this atrocious war crime signaled an actual start of the Bosnian civil war (1992-1995).
Brutally murdered Yugoslav army conscripts, May 15, 1992, Tuzla (photo: V. Novosti, BGD)
Izetbegović’s Clique Approved the Massacre
At the trial of Croat Ilija Jurišić, indicted for ordering attack on the convoy of Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) conscripts during their scheduled retreat from Tuzla in May 1992, Deputy Chief of Military Security at the time, Marko Novaković, who testified on January 16, said that the attack “never could have been carried out without the express approval of the Bosnian Muslim supreme command in Sarajevo.”
In a case known as the Tuzla Column massacre, trial before the Belgrade District Court War Crimes Chamber to Ilija Jurišić continues to provide solid evidence that the coldblooded massacre was ordered and coordinated at the very top of Bosnian Muslim leadership.
According to the indictment, JNA convoy, consisting mainly of unarmed 18-year-old conscripts from all parts of former Yugoslavia and of all nationalities, who were serving in the unified country in various military polygons throughout state of Yugoslavia, obeyed a decision on peaceful withdrawal of troops from the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina, in order not to exasperate with their presence a tense atmosphere at the time one segment of the population, Bosnian Muslims, demanded secession of the republic from Yugoslavia.
Bosnian Muslim Paramilitaries and Local Tuzla Officials Carried Out the Sniper Attack
The JNA convoy that attempted to withdraw from the town of Tuzla was given guarantees by Muslim leadership that they will be allowed to retreat and provided a safe passage to Serbia through Bijeljina. Nevertheless, convoy was ambushed and brutally attacked by the Bosnian Muslim paramilitary troops, with the help of local officials headed by Jurišić, at the very start of retreat. At least 92 conscripts and up to 200 members of the JNA were reportedly killed, 33 were wounded, 140 were taken prisoners and the majority of JNA’s military and sanitation vehicles were destroyed in this attack.
Jurišić, who at the time was a member of the Bosnian Interior Ministry police reserves and a senior officer in the Public Security Service operational HQ, was accused of issuing a direct order to attack JNA convoy in retreat. On the basis of his orders, snipers in nearby buildings first shot and killed the drivers of the military vehicles, thus stopping the vehicles and blocking the way for the rest of the column. They then proceeded to target the conscripts in those vehicles, shooting and killing the young men who had not been equipped to fight or resist attack, the indictment states.
As the JNA conscripts were jumping out of the vehicles, they were being cut down by the snipers. The identical attack was also carried out against the visibly marked sanitation vehicles in the convoy.
Free-Range Shooting Massacre Goes well with Cold Beer
Zoran Vukojević and Slobodan Radić, former reservists who survived the attack on the JNA column in Tuzla, testified that the convoy had been attacked after the second attempt to leave the army barracks. They confirmed that the drivers of the military and sanitation vehicles had come under fire first, and then everybody else in the convoy, as they were trying to to get away from the burning vehicles and find refuge in the nearby buildings. Witnesses claimed that explosions could be heard later.
Tatomir Krušić, a conscript who was wounded in the attack, testified that on the afternoon of May 15, 1992, when the JNA convoy had set off to leave Tuzla in Bosnia-Herzegovina, he had heard gunshots and seen that the driver of the truck he was in had been shot.
“The army convoy was coming under fire from all sides. Bora (the driver) was shot and I told everybody to get out of the truck. The four of us jumped out, and that’s when I was wounded,” Krušić recalled.
The brutal attack on the convoy of unarmed conscripts was being broadcast live on a local Bosnian Muslim television station, showing that the column was being shot at even from the Tuzla hospital building. Part of that footage, including abuse and murder of the conscripts by the Bosnian Muslims and Croats is shown in the documentary “Truth”. As the local Muslim television was showing the burning column of Yugoslav Army vehicles, the commentator in studio asks for the cold beer and then informs the viewers they ought to go and “help out” one conscript he saw reaching the entrance of a nearby building, suggesting the wounded soldier should not be left alive.
Another survivor of the Tuzla Column atrocity described how one of his unarmed friends that was lightly wounded in the arm managed to hide in the entrance of a building, only to be handed over in a body bag six days later. Most of the 140 conscripts who were caught alive were subsequently abused, tortured and killed in the Bosnian Muslim and Croat camps.
President of Bijeljina’s Association of Missing, Imprisoned and Killed Bosnian Serb army members and civilians, Žarko Radić said it is impossible to tell how many of the conscripts killed in Tuzla Column massacre have been buried in Spomen Kosturnica, mass grave turned into memorial after the civil war. He said there are cases where remains of several soldiers and civilians killed in Tuzla colum n were placed in the same casket. It is believed that remains of at least 80 JNA conscripts killed in Tuzla are buried as “unknown persons” in Bijeljina alone.
Jurišić pleaded not guilty to the charges when the trial began on February 22. He was arrested upon the international arrest warrant on May 2007, at Belgrade airport Nikola Tesla, while attempting to escape to Cologne, Germany. In 2009, Belgrade District Court sentenced Ilija Jurišić, wartime police commander from Tuzla, to 12 years in prison for his involvement in the war crime, but in 2010, the Court of Appeal in Belgrade overturned the sentence and acquitted him. (Jurišić, then a senior police official and duty officer in the Tuzla public security center operational headquarters, was found guilty of improper battlefield conduct. He is charged with acting on an order of a superior of his and instructing Bosnian-Croatian units to attack the JNA convoy that was peacefully retreating from the city. )
Media in Bosnia’s Serb entity, RS have been reporting that according to information collected by RS authorities, at least 59 JNA soldiers were killed, while about 150 were wounded or taken prisoners only in the part of Tuzla known as Brčanska Malta.
According to some media and other sources in the Muslim-Croat Bosnian Federation entity, “the balance sheet of the battle is 160 killed and 200 wounded JNA soldiers”.
de -Construct.net, B92, Večernje Novosti