Five Croats suspected of war crimes against 50 Serb civilians

ZAGREB, Sep 16, 2000 -- (AFP) Five Croats arrested in a recent large-scale police action against alleged war criminals are suspected of killing some 50 Serb civilians in 1991, a state prosecutor told AFP Friday.

Tihomir Oreskovic, who organized the defence of the central Croatian town of Gospic during the 1991-95 Serbo-Croatian conflict is suspected with four others of murdering some 50 Serb civilians, Rijeka state prosecutor Doris Hrast said.

The other four are: Ivica Rozic, Joso Miletic, Martin Markovic and Ivan Jovanovic. All were arrested last Tuesday.

The five were transferred Thursday from Gospic to the northern town of Rijeka prison, where they were to remain in custody for 30 days, national radio reported.

About 100 Gospic citizens staged protest, gathering with chains around their hands as police escorted the suspects, whom they consider war heroes, away.

On Friday, several war invalids and veterans' associations protested Friday against recent arrests.

All five denied the charges against them on Friday, saying it was a rigged political trial, national television reported.

Oreskovic received medical treatment for his diabetes condition Thursday evening.

According to the Jutarnji List independent daily, Oreskovic ordered the killing of about 40 people in the Gospic area in 1991.

Meanwhile Ivica Kostroman, a retired Croatian army colonel, denied in an interview with national radio Friday that he too had been arrested in Tuesday's round-up.

Local media reports had claimed he was picked up at the request of International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

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