Milica STOJANOVIC | BIRN, Sabac
After Zoran Amidzic, Bora Petrovic, Dejan Milicevic and Sretan Ilic were shot dead while covering the Croatian war for Serbian TV on October 9, 1991, their murders were exploited for propaganda by a nationalist tabloid, but never investigated by the authorities.
“There’s no reason to worry. We were there [before], we saw how it is, now we will also have a [military] escort and we are safe.”
This is what Snezana Amidzic’s husband Zoran told her when they spoke on the phone not long before he died in October 1991.
Zoran Amidzic worked as a journalist for the Yugoslav public broadcaster Radio-Television Belgrade (since renamed Radio-Television Serbia) in Sabac, a small town in western Serbia. When war broke out in nearby Croatia, the station began to deploy him and his crew to report on the hostilities.
“He called me from the Hotel Bosna in Banja Luka on October 8, 1991, where they were staying,” Snezana Amidzic recalled.
Her husband told her that they would go to the Yugoslav military in the Croatian town of Dvor na Uni, and that “they will provide us with security”.
“However, the next information we received was at midnight on the 9th of October that they had been killed,” she said.
Radio-Television Belgrade journalist Zoran Amidzic, cameraman Bora Petrovic, assistant Dejan Milicevic and a journalist from Radio Sabac, Sretan Ilic, died that day when they came under fire on the road between Glina and Petrinja in Croatia.
According to what is known about the incident, their car was hit by almost 300 bullets.
A couple of days after their death, Croatian nationalist tabloid Slobodni Tjednik published an article about them, calling them spies. The tabloid also printed documents that the media workers had with them when they were killed; these items were never returned to their families.
Three decades after the crime, no official investigation has been conducted, either in Croatia or in Serbia. They are among more than 150 journalists and media workers who were killed during the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s; only one person has ever been convicted under a final verdict of bearing responsibility for any of these deaths.
‘Zoran was curious by nature’
Amidzic and Petrovic worked in the Sabac newsroom of Radio-Television Belgrade for a long time before the war broke out in Croatia.
“Zoran was very curious by nature and wanted to provide information from the scene, to be there, so this was reflected in [his] work,” said Snezana Amidzic.
She said that he was there “when the first shooting started” in the village of Borovo Selo, the scene of one of the first armed clashes in the war. He then decided to go to the Banija/Banovina region of Croatia in October “because reservists from the [Yugoslav People’s Army’s] Sabac garrison were there”.
This time he went with camera operator Bora Petrovic. “They went to Belgrade, they took a [company] car, they got that Betacam [professional video camera], which not every correspondent could get,” said Petrovic’s widow Ljiljana.
“They got per diems, everything was properly reported to Belgrade that they were leaving, he stopped by with Amidza [Zoran Amidzic] and Dejan [Milicevic] to take boots; we had a small child, only two years old, and they said goodbye to her and left.”
Together with his assistant Milicevic, the youngest crew member, and Sretan Ilic, from local station Radio Sabac, they went to Croatia via Banja Luka in Bosnia on October 8. The next day at around 4pm, according to what is known about the incident, they were killed.
Their colleague at the time, Zoran Brkic, who also was a journalist in the Sabac newsroom, said they had gone to the frontline in the village of Nebojan, where Yugoslav People’s Army troops were facing Croatian soldiers, and came under fire on the way back.
Unlike their previous deployment to Croatia, this time they were not accompanied by an army vehicle as Amidzic had expected. Instead, Brkic explained, the fourth crew member, Radio Sabac journalist Sretan Ilic, acted as their ‘escort’ because he was a reservist officer, “so he was sent with them as a colleague instead of that [army] vehicle”.
Families and work colleagues of the four men said that apart from the notification of their deaths and information they received through non-official channels, they were not given any kind of crime scene report or any other official document explaining what happened.
Brana Stojisavljevic, who was also a camera operator in the newsroom in Sabac, said that sometime after the shooting, the men’s bodies were found when Serbian troops on patrol “arrived there and came across that scene”.
Snezana Amidzic said that based on the information she has, before the shooting started, the journalists’ vehicle had slowed down a bit because it was on an uphill incline.
“As soon as the vehicle slowed down, there were two bursts of gunfire directed at the car from a cornfield, so Bora [Petrovic], who was driving the car, and Dejan [Milicevic], who was behind him, both of them died on the spot and the car stopped,” she explained.
Her husband Zoran and Sretan Ilic were still alive and managed to get out of the car, but the gunmen found Zoran and, according to Snezana, fired over 30 bullets into his body.
Ilic managed to hide in the cornfield, where he was found when an ambulance arrived, but died on the way to hospital.
Nationalist tabloid publishes stolen list
A couple of weeks later, Snezana Amidzic received an anonymous letter and a copy of a newspaper article published by Zagreb-based Slobodni Tjednik, a sensationalist Croatian weekly tabloid magazine that was published in the first years of the war.
Under the headline “Shoot the spies unrelentingly!”, the article claimed that the four media workers were killed “by order of Belgrade” because they wanted to do a report about “frightened and unmotivated” Serbian fighters.
It also claimed that the entire crew was wearing military uniforms and was “armed with automatic weapons”.
“Slobodni Tjednik was an instigator of war, a heavy-duty instigator of war in which articles were published whose sole purpose was to add fuel to the fire in the heated conditions in Croatia,” said prominent Croatian journalist Drago Hedl, who reported on the propaganda role played by the tabloid magazine in wartime.
Together with the article, the magazine printed a list of names that it claimed were “Chetniks [Serb nationalist fighters] from Sabac who came to ‘liberate’ Croatia from the Croats”. A photograph of the alleged list, including phone numbers, was also published.
But Amidzic’s widow Snezana insisted that the list was actually “a list of young players from [Sabac handball club] Metaloplastika, including our son, who were 16 years old and were supposed to go to Switzerland for a European competition”.
She said the list was among her husband’s personal belongings that were stolen after he was shot. “It was printed with names and surnames and it was written that they were young Chetniks who arrived a month earlier but were killed,” she added.
Hedl explained that the publication of this private document shows how Slobodni Tjednik worked with the Croatian authorities at the time.
“Slobodni Tjednik had the cooperation of the authorities in Croatia, primarily the executive level of government and the police, who cooperated with it either because they thought that Slobodni Tjednik was doing the right thing for Croatia, or simply because [the tabloid’s owner] Marinko Bozic knew how to use a proven way to get information, which is to buy the information he wanted to publish,” said Hedl.
He added that Bozic was “well-connected with some Interior Ministry bodies and received information from them, which he placed in Slobodni Tjednik in a sensationalist way”.
The magazine’s editor-in-chief at the time was its owner and founder, Bozic, who died in 1993. The article about the murdered journalists was credited to Jovan Kubura.
Croatian journalist Drazen Rajkovic, who was deputy editor-in-chief of Slobodni Tjednik when the story was printed, said that as far as he recalled, Jovan Kubura was “a pseudonym used for texts obtained from the ‘other side’ – from sources known exclusively to the editor-in-chief – and according to the practice at the time, we never asked him where he got something from”.
“As the editor-in-chief is legally responsible for articles whose authors are not known or are not available, it was solely within his competence to assign a pseudonym to certain articles,” Rajkovic said in an email.
He also said that he does not remember the story about the four Serbian journalists, so could not answer questions about it.
In February 1992, international watchdog organisation Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Croatian President Franjo Tudjman expressing concerns about crimes allegedly committed by Croatian forces, including the killing of the Serbian journalists.
“Zoran Amidzic, Bora Petrovic, Dejan Milicevic and Sreten [Sretan] Ilic of Belgrade Television were killed while covering the war in Croatia under circumstances in which Croatian forces may have been responsible,” Human Rights Watch said.
“Various reports maintain that their car hit a land mine while other reports say that their car was ambushed by Croats using a shoulder-held grenade launcher,” the letter added.
Human Rights Watch called on the Croatian authorities to investigate the incident and punish the perpetrators. However, according to judicial authorities in both Croatia and Serbia, this has never happened.
The Croatian State Attorney’s Office said “no criminal report or any other document was received from the relevant authorities, Croatian or foreign” that would indicate that an offence was committed in order for prosecutors to investigate the case.
The Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office said that it “does not have information on the deaths of these journalists”.