Tuesday, 29 August, 2000Search for war crime witness's killers
The Croatian Government has condemned the murder of a former soldier who volunteered to give war crimes evidence.
Milan Levar died in a bomb blast at his home in Gospic on Monday.
Human rights workers say the government did not do enough to protect him.
But a government spokeswoman, Aleksandra Kolaric, said those who had committed war crimes obviously did not shy away from acts of murder.
She said in a statement that the authorities would make every effort to uncover Levar's killers.
Croatia had to persevere in uncovering war crimes and punishing those responsible, Ms Kolaric said.
Milan Levar had volunteered to testify about war crimes allegedly committed against Serbs by fellow Croats during the civil war in 1991 and had contacted the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague in 1997.
A leading human rights worker from the Croatian Helsinki Commission described the killing as a ringing message to other people expected to testify about war crimes and a significant blow to law, order and justice in Croatia.
The Gospic police, however, said that Levar had not asked for protection, even though he had reported receiving death threats.
A spokesman for the Hague tribunal, Paul Risley, said Levar had not been in its witness protection programme.
Mr Risley said the tribunal's investigation into war crimes in Gospic had not yet reached the trial stage and therefore Levar was not actually a witness, even though he might have been asked to testify in the future.
Serbs blame authorities
A leader of the Serb community in Croatia, Milan Djukic, also accused the authorities of not protecting Levar after he received the death threats.
"He informed the police but was left to fend for himself," Mr Djukic said, adding that he saw the murder as "a deliberate attempt to hide the truth".
Levar was involved in organising the defence of Gospic against Serb forces during the civil war.
Two years ago he accused two of Gospic's military commanders, Tihomir Oreskovic and Mirko Norac, of having carried out mass executions of Serbs.
Gospic county court judge Pavao Rukavina said that police had discovered pieces of an explosive device in Levar's yard, thus ruling out an earlier theory that the blast could have been caused by a gas bottle exploding.
Levar's widow, Vesna, also said the family used to cook with gas, but had gone over to using electricity two years ago. Since then, she said, the gas bottles had remained empty.
Katica Levar, the dead man's mother, said she had known all along that there would be an attempt against her son's life.
"I knew that a trap had been set for my son," she told Croatian television. "It was only a matter of time."
Katica said she had warned her son of the danger he was in.
He had replied: "If I lose just a single hair from my head, somebody will be held responsible."