Zagreb - Tens of thousands of citizens led by the defenders of Vukovar, together with members of the families of killed, unaccounted-for and captured Vukovar defenders, marched through the eastern town on Monday in a remembrance procession, honouring in a dignified manner the 2,717 killed in the military aggression on Vukovar in 1991.
Also in the procession was Lyliane Fournier, whose son Jean Michel Nicolier, a French volunteer, was killed at Ovcara near Vukovar. She told reporters she expected the person responsible for her son's death to be brought to justice and that she had information on the killer's identity. She called for blocking Serbia's EU accession until it handed over all war criminals. "Of course, Serbia's EU entry should be blocked until they provide information on mass grave sites, extradite war criminals and apologise as the aggressor on Croatia," she said.
The commemorations on Monday evening ended with the ceremony called "Light River of Remembrance", with traditional lighting on the river Danube. Red candles were lit for 380 Vukovar defenders and civilians who are still unaccounted-for, while white ones were for 2,717 victims killed in the war.
Medved: We have documents showing JNA conducted exhumations in Vukovar area
The Croatian Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Tomo Medved, said on Monday evening that the government was in possession of documents proving that the former Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) had conducted exhumations in the Vukovar area of eastern Croatia and that specific information had been requested from Serbia to help shed light on the fate of missing persons from the 1991-1995 war. "The government and the Ministry of Veterans' Affairs is in possession of documents that clearly, precisely and unequivocally show that after the occupation of Vukovar the Serbian army conducted exhumations in this area. We have clear indications. And those were not paramilitary units, but the active service personnel of the Serbian army," Medved told the RTL commercial television channel from Vukovar. He said that in the last few months several requests for information had been addressed to Serbia specifying dates when JNA personnel conducted exhumations from primary to secondary mass grave sites.
Serbia has been requested to provide concrete information on the actions that were taken and to identify the persons involved to help locate the mortal remains of Croatian soldiers and civilians who went missing after the fall of Vukovar 28 years ago, Medved said, adding that of the total of 1,872 persons listed as missing in the Homeland War, 386 were from the wider Vukovar area. "This is a humanitarian issue of paramount importance to us, our top priority," the minister said.
Bishop: Abyss of defeat in Vukovar gave birth to great victory
The Catholic Bishop of Mostar and Duvno, Ratko Perić said in his sermon at the central commemoration of the 28th anniversary of the fall of Vukovar on Monday that the three-month-long defence of the town had ended in tragedy, but that the victory now enjoyed by Croatia was born out of that tragedy. People regarded the defence of Vukovar as a disaster, and then "from the abyss of the defeat and so much innocent blood shed, a magnificent victory has appeared," said the bishop describing the reintegration of the Croatian Danube region into Croatia's legal and constitutional order in 1998 as "unfathomable gain".
Commenting on the Christian roots of the Croats and Serbs, the bishop notes that both nations are inclined to "boast of their Christian name", however, each of the two peoples had members "who failed to be disciples of Christ" and who failed to bear witness of truth and justice.
In his sermon at the Vukovar Memorial Cemetery, Perić pointed out that the example of the WWII-era Archbishop of Zagreb, Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, who "sacrificed his life for the unity of the Church of Jesus". Communities, be it a parish community or a city or a country, can flourish only when they have people who are "genuinely prepared to serve the common good, and unselfishly follow the ideals of peace based on justice and truth." No nationalistic aggression can put an end to enmity or make friends among peoples. Only one's own sacrifices, imbued by love and supported by the sacrifice of Christ, can do that, the dignitary said. The mass at the Vukovar cemetery was held at the end of the memorial march through the town.
In attendance at today's ceremonies were top state officials including President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and other office-holders, war veterans and so on. Before the requiem mass, wreath-laying ceremonies were held and after the mass, delegations visited the Ovčara mass grave site. Following the town's fall into the hands of the Yugoslav People's Army and Serb rebels in mid-November 1991, at least 261 people were taken from the local hospital, 200 of whom were exhumed from a mass grave at the former Ovčara pig farm in 1996, while others remain unaccounted for. The youngest victim was 16 years old and the oldest 77.