Former artillery chief of the Dubrovnik defense forces testifies at the trial of General Pavle Strugar.

Ivan Negodic, witness at the Pavle Strugar trialIvan Negodic, witness at the Pavle Strugar trial

"All signs indicate that the attack launched by the JNA on the Old Town of Dubrovnik on 6 December 1991 was planned. This was not a battle of armies, but a systematic destruction in order to facilitate entry into the city."

This is how Ivan Negodic, former commander of the Dubrovnik artillery, characterized the events with which General Pavle Strugar is charged. Negodic has been testifying at the trial of Strugar, who commanded the JNA Dubrovnik operation during the last three months of 1991.

To give an example of the non-selective and deliberate targeting of the Old Town, both from sea and from land, Negodic quoted an intercepted radio communication between an unidentified JNA captain and a soldier at an artillery position. When his subordinate asked him what to target, the captain swore and replied, "… anything within the walls is a target."

According to Negodic, one of the reasons why the JNA did not enter Dubrovnik was its assessment that in street fighting, the JNA would have between four and five thousand casualties.

The former commander of the Dubrovnik artillery explained that "every time the ships came in, they fired all their ammunition at Hotel Belvedere and then the ships would return to Boka Kotorska."

Negodic claimed that Dubrovnik’s 400 to 450 defenders, who "in 90 percent of the cases [were] in civilian clothes" at four positions they held outside of the Old Town, never provoked the JNA to attack. "No one on Earth who is defending himself will provoke the other side," Negodic said, adding that the Croatian forces "responded only when the shells started falling on the town."

Allowing that there may have been "a hunting rifle or a pistol" in the Old Town, Negodic categorically stated that there were “no depots, no military positions, no anti-aircraft or artillery weapons there." He testified that the only time Croatian troops entered the Old Town was on the evening of 6 December, when he went in with a squad of soldiers "to put out the fire."

Negodic said the defenders of Dubrovnik were poorly armed – they had three three-barreled anti-aircraft guns mounted on trucks that cruised the town, the Strela 2m and Igla anti-aircraft systems, Sagger missiles and infantry weapons.

Negodic rejected claims that Croatian forces could have hit the Old Town by mistake in order to elicit a response from European Community monitors.

At the beginning of cross-examination, General Strugar's defence claimed that the Croatian side began the process of obtaining arms "long before the beginning of the JNA Dubrovnik operation." It also said the casualties and destruction in the Old Town were "a consequence of the provocative actions of the Croatian troops and civilians from the Old Town" and because Croatian forces stationed their artillery positions "right next to the protected buildings and hotels in the Old Town." Negodic challenged all these submissions by Strugar's defence.