Vukovar - The eastern Croatian town of Vukovar as well as the whole of Croatia on Friday observed Vukovar Remembrance Day in memory of 18 November 1991 when Vukovar fell into the hands of more numerous forces of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and Serb paramilitaries, after which around 22,000 Croats and members of other non-Serbs were expelled and several thousand Croatian soldiers and civilians interned in Serb-run prison camps.
According to unofficial information, about 100,000 people from Croatia and abroad gathered in Vukovar on Friday to mark the 25th anniversary of the destruction and occupation of the town by JNA and Serb paramilitary forces.
Memorial ceremonies began in the yard of the General Hospital in Vukovar on Friday morning. After that, the participants walked in a Remembrance Procession to the Homeland War Memorial Cemetery where state and other delegations laid wreaths and lit candles in memory of Croatian soldiers and civilians killed during the siege of the town. Among those paying tribute were President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, Parliament Speaker Božo Petrov, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, Vukovar Mayor Ivan Penava, and defenders of the town led by their wartime commander Branko Borković.
Roses were laid by each of 938 white crosses commemorating the victims whose bodies had been exhumed from a mass grave uncovered on the site of the cemetery.
A prayer service was led by the Archbishop of Đakovo and Osijek, Đuro Hranić, and a requiem mass was said by the Archbishop of Zagreb, Cardinal Josip Bozanić.
The commemorative events in Vukovar were covered by over 1,600 accredited journalists, and the town's authorities have declared Friday a non-working day for town-owned companies and institutions.
According to data provided by the town's authorities, the Battle of Vukovar began on 25 August 1991 when the JNA and Serb paramilitaries mounted an all-out attack on the town. About 1,800 Croatian defenders, including a large number of volunteers from throughout the country, defended the town for almost three months before being overrun by the besieging forces on 18 November 1991. About 4,000 people were killed in the battle.
JNA troops took wounded Croatian soldiers and civilians from the town hospital to a nearby pig farm at Ovčara and executed them in the night between 20 and 21 November 1991. Two hundred bodies have been exhumed from the Ovčara mass grave and 76 persons are still unaccounted for. The youngest victim was 16 years old and the oldest was 84. Among the victims was a woman seven months pregnant.
After the town's occupation, several thousand Croatian prisoners of war and civilians were taken to concentration camps in Serbia, and about 22,000 Croats and other non-Serbs were expelled from the town.
A total of 309 persons from the Vukovar area are still listed as missing. Croatia regained sovereignty over the town in early 1998 after the completion of the UN-administered process of peaceful reintegration of the Serb-occupied Eastern Slavonia region into the Croatian constitutional system.